MorganBy Judith Proctor
'Morgan' is a crossover between the universes of Blake's 7 and Morgan's Boy. It is written for those who have never seen Morgan's Boy, and probably never will unless the BBC repeat it. It assumes no prior knowledge of the series at all. All you need to know is that Morgan was played by Gareth Thomas who was nominated for a BAFTA for his performance.
The story began as nothing more than a fragment of a dream that I typed up and sent to Val for her amusement. She wanted to know what happened next. I hadn't actually thought there was going to be any more! But with her encouragement and that of the members of the Space City mailing list, it grew and took on a life of its own. That fragment became the novella that you see before you. In spite of some of the earlier chapters being serialised on Space City (which is an adult list), this is not an adult zine. In fact, it's not a story in which sex has any part to play at all. It's the tale of two men with very different backgrounds and beliefs, and the relationship that develops between them.
'Morgan' has been over a year and a half in the writing. Every time I had another zine to edit and layout, it got sidetracked. It never got abandoned though. Morgan is a character who calls out to me and would not let me forget him. I've put more of my heart into writing this zine than into anything else I've ever done. It's going to seem odd not having him around any more. I think Val got caught up by Morgan too. She's done some of her best art ever in her illustrations for this story. She's caught the subtle differences that make Morgan different from Blake. In fact, and I hope she'll forgive me for saying this, she draws him better than she draws Blake.
I had a compulsive need to get the details right in this zine. Apart from the physical details of the town of Brecon, everything, touch wood, should be accurate. This is due in no small part to those friends who helpfully gave me information on everything from social security forms to the finer points of sheep sheering. The spread of skills to be found among Blake's 7 fans is truly amazing. Thanks particularly go to Ruth Saunders, Louise Rutter and Tom Forsyth.
Thanks also go to those who read and commented on the text, especially Lillian Sheperd and Neil Faulkner. Special thanks go to Gareth Thomas for a late-night conversation at the last Who's 7 convention which had a major impact on the way that the story developed. Lastly, I mustn't forget my husband Richard who contributes in so many ways to these zines, even though he is not, and probably never will be, a Blake's 7 fan.
This zine is for many people, but most of all for Gareth Thomas. Not for Blake, nor even for Morgan, but for being himself: generous, warm-hearted and loved by so many who know him.
PS. If you enjoy this zine and would like to see the series that inspired it, why not write to the BBC and request them to repeat it? The address is Viewer and Listener Correspondence, BBC, Villiers House, The Broadway, London, W5 2PA. Morgan's Boy was an 8-part BBC drama screened in 1984. (They like to know things like the year so that they know which programme you're referring to.)
Blainau is pronounced Bly-knee, to rhyme with blimey, but don't ask me what it means.
WRVS - Women's Royal Voluntary Service - often provide a refreshment service in hospitals.
portacabin - portable temporary building - US trailer.
Fridd Fawr - pronounced Frith Fower (as close as I can get) - translates as High Pasture.
This zine is copyright © March 1998 to Judith Proctor. It is understood that only original material is covered by this copyright and no attempt is made to supersede any copyright held by Terry Nation, Alick Rowe, the BBC or any other holder of copyright on Blake's 7 or Morgan's Boy material.
Avon's head ached abominably. That was the first thing he was aware of - the second was that he couldn't remember what had happened to make it hurt. He struggled through dizziness and disorientation to open his eyes, only to find himself looking up at an unfamiliar ceiling.
He turned automatically towards the sound of the voice and saw the man he'd been searching for for the last half a year. "Blake."
Blake blinked in slow surprise. "You knew me before."
Before what? This man was older and the voice was all wrong. Yet, he was Blake. If Avon lived to be a thousand, he would never forget that face. "Blake," he insisted.
Avon took that in slowly. There were too many questions to ask and for once he was uncertain of where to start. What did he call this man? He denied the name Blake, but offered his own with no indication of which name was to be used. He didn't act like an alpha, but could Avon address any relative of Blake's (and this man had to be a relative) by his first name?
"What do I call you?"
"Morgan." There was a glimmer of amusement, of a sense of humour so dry that he almost missed it. "You already decided that for yourself."
He had? He struggled to sit up, to get a better view of wherever he was, then collapsed back on his side as his head spun and nausea coiled in his throat. There were questions he needed to ask - where he was and how he had come to be here - but his mind refused to allow speech, drawn instead to the more immediate issue of trying to control the urge to vomit. Impressions filtered in gradually: the mattress he was lying on, the light coming gently through each small glass pane of the window, the dark wood of the cupboard standing in the corner beyond the window. The bed he lay on had brass rails at head and foot that gleamed with a gentle shine. Morgan stood beside the bed, watching, a frown creasing his forehead.
"You all right?"
Avon struggled to answer, then gave way to the bile that rose in his throat and spilled out over the plain fabric of the mattress. The action seemed to be something partially detached from himself; he felt dizzy as though he wasn't really there at all.
"I'm sorry," he said, half closing his eyes to shut out the sight of his last meal spread before him in small watery lumps.
"The Old Lady wouldn't have begrudged her bed to a sick man." You could hear the capital letters when Morgan spoke. "You'll be needing a doctor," he added. More of a statement than a question, but with a slight uplift on the last word that left the final choice to Avon.
"No doctor." He was in too much danger if the authorities found him - he still had a price on his head. "Water."
Morgan's brow furrowed, then he left the room. Avon heard the sound of him going downstairs, followed by the running of a tap. Morgan reappeared a minute later, carrying a mug that had seen better days.
"I thought there was still one - cracked you see."
He assisted Avon to a sitting position. In spite of the gentleness of his touch, the motion was almost enough to make Avon vomit again. The mug that was pressed into his hands was indeed cracked, liquid seeping in a slow bead down the outside, but the water itself was cool and eased the burning in his throat. He drank in small sips, relying on Morgan's arm across his shoulders to keep him steady, finally finding the strength to ask:
"Where am I?"
That meant nothing. "What planet?"
"What planet?" Avon insisted.
But Morgan didn't answer. Instead he lay Avon back on the bed and headed for the door.
"I'll be back soon."
Avon felt that he ought to be worried about something, but he was too tired. It was easier just to let his mind wander. There were no clocks here to measure the passage of time. His eyes drifted around the room, slowly taking things in. There was quiet of a quality that he was not accustomed to; he strained to hear the hum of machinery, the motors that circulated air and supplied heat and light, but there was nothing except the harsh call of some kind of bird. Somewhere primitive then? His mind wandered, butterfly-like, from object to object, never stopping long enough to require concentration, but gathering up random thoughts in a ravelled thread. Wood and metal, but no plastics. Furniture for storing things in, but nothing of a personal nature at all except Morgan's jacket lying neatly folded on a chair. There were no pictures, no hairbrushes or combs, none of the trinkets that would normally be associated with a woman's room. No one lived here, unless it was ghosts.
Where was he? It didn't seem to matter terribly. He let himself drift on a sea of silence and dreamed that he was floating in infinite space between the lonely stars.
A sound distracted him, pulled him from the cocoon that protected him from the vacuum, resolved itself into footsteps. He ought to know who they belonged to. Someone had said they would come back for him. Someone was shaking his shoulder gently. Someone with familiar curly hair and brown eyes.
"Morgan." Blake/Morgan sounded tired. "I can't call an ambulance; they've disconnected the phone. I'll have to take you to hospital in the Land Rover. Will you be all right?"
Would he be all right, leaving this room of quiet and stillness to its faded ghosts? To go with this strange Blake clone? "Why not?"
Morgan hesitated. "You haven't told me your name. Can you remember?"
Could he? But Blake should know it anyway. He felt too dizzy to try and sort things out.
"Avon. My name is Avon."
As though speaking his name caused the world to become aware of his presence, everything seemed to rush in upon him, seeking to fill the void that he had become. There was a part of him that was missing, an emptiness that tried to tug him into it while he was too weak to resist its pull. Waves lapped on an endless shore, offering him oblivion in the depths of the ocean. All he had to do was step into the water and there would be peace and total forgetfulness.
"Can you stand?"
That voice. This was the Blake who wasn't Blake. Avon groped for the name through the drowning and found it with a sense of triumph. Morgan.
Could he stand? He tried to sit up, unwilling to show weakness in front of Blake, even if he wasn't Blake. Stars spun around his head in slow, lazy circles and he grabbed at the hand Morgan held out to him.
"Put your arm round my shoulders."
No condescension in that voice, just a solid practicality. Avon obeyed, feeling the reassuring strength under the worn jacket as Morgan helped him to his feet. They made their way downstairs carefully, each narrow step a potential downfall, the wood worn smooth by the passage of many feet. Avon glanced to his right as they came to the bottom. Wooden beams running across the ceiling supported the room above, but in this room below there was nothing: no furniture, no carpet, nothing to show that anyone lived here. Not even ghosts laid claim to this room.
Morgan opened a door a pace in front of them, leading into a small porch. A further door opened to the outside. Morgan methodically locked the door of the empty house and dropped the keys into his pocket. As Avon's eyes adjusted to the brightness of daylight, he stared in astonishment at the antique in the yard before him. Morgan hadn't struck him as a wealthy man, but to own such a vehicle, let alone have the permit to drive it, indicated a small fortune.
"How old is it?" he asked in wonderment.
Morgan looked offended rather than flattered. "She still goes."
Smoke from a dying bonfire drifted across the yard, the wind catching small scurries of ash and blowing them onto the truck. A fragment of a photograph, a child's face half burnt, landed on the ground before him for an instant before being whisked away, curling up and over, weaving a spiral dance with the wind.
When he looked back at Morgan, there was a dog by the man's side. Ears pricked, it watched Avon alertly. He resisted the urge to back away from it. Animals were unpredictable and dangerous; anything might provoke one into an attack. He reached instinctively for the comforting shape of his Liberator gun, but he wasn't wearing it.
"He won't bite," Morgan said with a touch of impatience. He gestured the dog to the open back of what was presumably the Land Rover. "Get in, you clown."
The dog leapt smoothly over the tail gate and sat on its hind legs, waiting.
The creature was intelligent then. A product of genetic engineering?
Morgan opened the left-hand door and helped Avon into a seat. The slam of the door shot daggers through his skull. Instead of climbing in the driver's side, Morgan first opened the gate to the yard. When he got in and shut his own door, Avon tensed for the slam but it wasn't so bad this time - anticipation helped. As Morgan started the engine and drove the Land Rover through the gate, the main thing Avon was conscious of was the mixture of smells inside. Animal smells, not just the dog: chemicals, all different; nothing he could identify. That bothered him. Smells should be familiar things. Smells were the background of life - the hot smell of solder on a circuit board, the aroma of cooked food, the background scent of old sweat that permeated the domes, the smell of the recycled air on board Liberator - so familiar that the mind forgot it until returning to the ship after planetfall.
Morgan stopped in the road on the other side of the gate and got out. Avon heard the clang of the gate closing before Morgan climbed back in and set them moving again. Inefficient - the gate should have been automatically controlled. The country they passed through was desolate. Straggly trees; low stone walls, looking as though they had been built by hand; enclosed fields where nothing grew except grass. Sheep grazed in some of the fields, greyish white wool as drab as everything else seemed to be here.
Where was here?
"Where are we going?" he asked.
Had he said that before? Avon wished he could remember.
"What planet is this?"
Morgan's eyes flicked away from the road to give him an odd look. "Little green men from Mars is it?"
"From Mars are you?"
This conversation was getting crazier and crazier. All that existed on Mars was a few mines and a traffic control base.
"I'm from Earth," he snapped back, and then wished he hadn't as it made his head hurt.
"England, you mean."
"How did you know?"
"Your accent," Morgan said as though stating the obvious.
"I haven't got an accent." This man might not be Blake, but he was well on the way to being equally irritating.
"Damn English." He snorted. "Think anyone who doesn't speak like the BBC is a bloody foreigner. You're not in England now; you're in Wales."
Wales? Nobody lived in the open in Wales. Not legally anyway. An Outsider? But an Outsider wouldn't have the money to own an automobile or a pet.
Morgan halted the Land Rover at a road junction, then turned onto another, wider road. Another automobile, bright red, shot past them, then another and another. Avon clutched the sides of his seat, struggling with the stuff of nightmare. This place wasn't real, it couldn't be. There was a white dashed line painted down the centre of the road, paint still bright and clean. This road was maintained and intended to carry a heavy traffic load. That in turn implied the resources to fuel all the automobiles, resources that Earth hadn't had for centuries. Something was very, very wrong.
The motion of the Land Rover and the mixture of smells were beginning to make him feel even worse. He hunched his head into his hands, trying to fight the nausea, but it didn't help. Wind whistled through the half closed window beside him and out the open back. He was conscious that there was nothing but a pane of glass between himself and the oncoming traffic. If one of them were to veer by just a few metres... He bit his lip and stared forward, trying not to flinch at cars speeding towards him. Morgan's bulk beside him was a reassuring presence. If Blake thought the road was safe, then it probably was. Just for once, his memory avoided reminding him of all the times when Blake had been wrong.
The road joined another and buildings began to appear, scattered along the way. Individual dwellings, stone, with slate roofs, surrounded by grass and trees. So much space. How could people live like that, so spread out? His mind toyed with the novel concept of living alone. The superiority of the domes was obvious; they gave privacy when needed, with all the advantages of communal living. People to argue with, people to share a meal with, people to discuss ideas with, people - his mind drifted to Anna - to love. He tried to imagine Liberator with no one else on board and the idea was as disturbing as it had been over Horizon when he'd thought them all dead. He didn't need them of course. He didn't need anyone, but even an idiot like Vila helped to make the emptiness of life more bearable.
As the houses began to cluster more closely together and merged into long terraces, Avon felt more comfortable. Alien this world might be, but no more so than any other he'd visited. If he didn't feel so dizzy, he'd be fine. If he didn't feel so dizzy, he'd be trying to work out where this ridiculous world was.
Time travel was impossible. Blake being someone else was impossible.
This place wasn't alien; it was old. Archaic. Like history tapes.
There was no way to ask without sounding like a fool.
The tone of the engine changed as Morgan adjusted some controls and took them round a corner. "Say?"
"What year is it?"
"'Eighty four." No surprise, just an even-worded answer that never even caused Morgan to take his eyes off the road.
Eighty four? That gave him no information apart from that he had already feared. He was lost. The year was no longer 258: it wasn't even counted by the same system. The whole situation was impossible.
He gave up trying to work it out and closed his eyes, letting the rumble of the motor soothe him into uneasy sleep. It was silence that eventually woke him: the engine had stopped. They were in a place of automobiles. Rows of them stretched on either side in a bewildering variety of colours and designs. Morgan was opening the door beside him.
"Can you get down?"
Avon climbed out carefully, ignoring the arm held out to him; then clutched hard at it as the world lurched and spun crazily around him. He halted, waiting for the attack to pass, barely aware of Morgan's low-voiced reassurances. When he felt safe to walk, he said as much to Morgan, but Morgan was addressing the dog that had magically appeared by his feet.
"They won't let you in."
The dog appeared unmoved.
"Get back in, you daft bugger."
It jumped obediently back into the Land Rover. Avon had always been led to believe that dogs barked, but this one didn't seem to. Maybe it just obeyed Morgan the way people had always seemed to end up obeying Blake.
They made their way between the rows of automobiles, up a ramp and through a pair of double doors. Morgan seemed to know where he was going and Avon allowed himself to be led down a series of corridors to an area with rows of plastic seats. Drab and uninviting, it had the aura of waiting rooms throughout all time and history. Without waiting to be told, Avon took a seat next to a spider plant with limp, browning leaves which drooped over the sides of an ornamental trough. Opposite him, an enormous woman in a shapeless green coat attempted in vain to calm the squeals of a red-faced baby, while beyond her an elderly man read a glossy magazine, eyes squinting at the text. Morgan was arguing with a woman at a desk, his words inaudible over the baby's screams. Avon wished the noise would stop; it seemed to fill every corner of his brain, reverberating in the corners and bouncing around the empty places where things should be that weren't.
How had he come to be here?
A nurse appeared in front of him, asking questions. He stared vaguely at her, trying to concentrate even while a corner of his mind noted whimsically that nurses were another universal constant - that air of concern coupled with bossiness and the strain of overwork was unmistakable.
"The doctor will see you in cubicle three."
"We've been waiting for over half an hour," complained the woman in the green coat.
The nurse flashed a professional smile. "I'm afraid head injuries have priority."
Green coat lapsed into an offended silence as the baby started to yell once more.
They followed the nurse, Avon resting an arm on Morgan's shoulder to help keep his balance. Gaudy curtains, looking oddly out of place in this plain-painted building, swung to one side to reveal a bed and an Asian man sitting at a small desk.
"Lie down, please." His voice was oddly accented, very different to Morgan's.
Avon lay down with relief, uncaring of his boots on the blanket.
"You injured your head?"
"That's right." Morgan answered for him.
"Should have been wearing a helmet."
"Not on a motorbike. Was walking in the field above Blainau. Fell and hit his head on a rock."
"He was walking in that outfit?"
And just what was wrong with black leather? Avon couldn't recall wearing this particular outfit before, but it was very much his style.
The doctor shrugged. "We'll get him X-rayed before we do anything else. Get yourself a cup of coffee if you like. The WRVS have a tea-bar just down the corridor. He'll be back in ten or fifteen minutes."
Avon didn't remember much of the X-ray: the process seemed to consist of being wheeled down corridors on his bed, positioned under massive cameras and wheeled back again to the accompaniment of well meaning platitudes from a hospital orderly. He ignored them. Only one person here had any significance to him.
When he was wheeled back into cubicle three, an uncertain shape shuffled over from its seat by the window and resolved itself into Morgan. Eyes troubled, he gazed down at Avon, the china cup and saucer in his hands looking incongruous as though they were too fragile and dainty to belong anywhere near Morgan's down-to-Earth solidity.
"What now?" Morgan asked finally.
Avon was saved from the necessity of an answer by the return of the doctor who began a long routine of checking pulse rate and blood pressure, shining lights in eyes, testing the strength of Avon's grip, all the while interspersing everything with questions. Too many questions. Questions that he could give no meaningful answer to.
"Where do you live?"
"Who is your doctor?"
"What is your date of birth?"
"What is the last thing you remember before the accident?"
Kairos. That was the last thing he remembered. Getting away from Kairos and fooling Servalan into giving them back the Liberator. But he couldn't say that here.
"I can't remember."
"I don't know."
"I can't remember anything."
"How long was he unconscious?" the doctor asked of Morgan.
"Two or three minutes. Maybe a little longer. Will he be all right?"
"Traumatic amnesia. It's not uncommon with concussion. It'll probably come back, although he may never remember the accident itself. We'll check him regularly during the night to see if there is any serious injury."
The doctor gathered his notes together and vanished. Avon drifted.
He looked up to see Morgan leaning over him.
"I'd best be going."
"No!" He tried to tone down his reaction, to calm the unreasoning panic that shot through him.
"Not my place here - you want your family. They'll find you soon enough. Likely you've been reported missing already."
He reached out and grasped Morgan's hand.
The contact was warm and real; the only anchor he had to this time and place. Not Blake, but the resemblance had to hold a clue as to why he was here. "I haven't got any family - you're all I remember." He searched the eyes, trying to find the warmth and humour that would have been in Blake's, but all he could see was a clouded uncertainty.
"Dog needs feeding," Morgan said finally. He paused. "I'll come back tomorrow."
Afternoon sun streamed through the window, kissing faded flowers with momentary splendour and twisting through the glass vase to drop a pool of brighter light on the window sill.
Avon's mind played with questions of latitude and angle. If he could remember the Earth's axial tilt, then he ought to be able to guess the time of year. Nothing else gave him any clues. He had known other worlds in their outdoor moods, but his motherworld was a stranger. Vistapes never prepared you for the real thing. Dayna gloried in the outdoors - on the rare occasions they visited a world for leisure, she would stand in the rain, head uptilted and let crystal droplets stream down the ebony of her skin. Once, he'd watched her from the safety of a nearby tree, envying her the freedom of the young. First Tarrant and then finally Vila had run out to join her, splashing through the wetness, playing games with handfuls of water, soaked to the skin and never caring. Cally had remained with Avon, quieter, somehow more sedate. He'd wondered afterwards if it reminded her somehow of her time on Saurian Major, when dicing with the elements had been a matter of necessity, not choice. She never talked about that time, and he in respect for that silence had never asked.
He padded on bare feet to check the chart at the foot of his bed once more. He'd deciphered most of the jargon already, but there was reassurance in knowing that there was nothing seriously wrong with him. The X-ray had revealed no fracture and he was already feeling greatly improved from yesterday. If only he could remember.
The clock on the wall said 1:45. The other patients in the ward were mostly awake now, familiar with the routine. Visiting hours two to three o'clock. He paced over to the window in an agony of uncertainty, stared down at the black slate roofs below, then back to his bed once more. At least the bed was his: territory of a sort. Nothing else here belonged to him. Even the striped pyjamas he wore were hospital property.
Would Morgan come?
Did he want Morgan to come?
What difference would it make anyway? He had no claim on the man. He recognised Blake in Morgan, but Morgan had recognised no one in him. But Morgan was the key; he had to be. Whatever had brought him here had to involve Morgan somehow. A double for Blake? A decoy to be shot at? That would imply that he'd found Blake or at least had a clue as to where the man was. Or perhaps Blake had died in some nameless Federation prison and the rebellion had cried out for fresh blood to unite it.
Why had he come here? How had he come here? How did he get back again?
His head hurt with the pain of trying to recall. Abandoning the task as hopeless for now, he lay down once more, taking out his frustration on the pillow, beating it into a comfortable shape to lie on. He dozed fitfully, until awoken by the deep tones of Morgan's voice.
"Now, that's a stupid question."
"You're feeling better, then?" Was that meant to be a joke? Blake would have thrown that line to him as a challenge, but Morgan was different. He wasn't sure if Morgan was serious or not.
"Pretty much. My head still aches, but at least I can remember which way is up."
"Do you remember?"
Avon waved to a low chair beside the bed. Morgan sat down, which reduced his head to somewhere around the level of Avon's waist.
"Do I remember you? Yes. Do I remember how I got here? No."
"You remember your family?"
"I've nobody here." The thought was an unpleasant one and one he hadn't really considered yet. Suppose he was stuck here? He had no money, nowhere to go. He knew nobody and hadn't the first idea of what it took to survive in this primitive era. He was a civilised man, damn it. It was guaranteed that nobody here had ever heard of a tarial cell computer. Everything he knew, everything he had been trained in, was useless.
"You could stay with me a while until you recover." Morgan's voice was tentative as though he expected Avon to turn him down. "I'd be glad of the company."
Gratitude wasn't something that came easily to Avon, but he knew when it was called for. He would not have welcomed an injured stranger. "Thank you," he said slowly. "I'd appreciate that."
"Cup of tea?" Morgan asked. He seemed nervous, trying to welcome the stranger in his territory but uncertain of the correct ritual.
Avon nodded, still trying to fathom the strangeness of this place, trying to find something that he could relate to. There, in the corner, that had to be a view-screen, and a chair was a chair in any time period. A thin, netted fabric hung over the window. Odd - that spoiled the view. Then it struck him with a sense of shock that people could see into these houses as easily as the occupants could see out of them. The lack of privacy that that implied was hard to imagine. No wonder these people spaced their dwellings so far apart if they insisted on using natural rather than artificial illumination. A most contradictory society.
He turned around to ask Morgan where people conducted their business and social gatherings, but Morgan had gone. Hurriedly, Avon followed, easily locating Morgan in the only other ground floor room, a place of cupboards and work surfaces. A room that would make a passable laboratory if it were a little larger. A small fire burned on top of a machine, heating the metal container above it. Avon assigned it a probable function of heating the tea.
"Where are the cups?" he asked practically.
"Cupboard on the wall."
He opened the cupboard to find a motley assortment of mugs and plates. Some shared the same pattern, other had long since lost whatever relatives they possessed and now lived in conglomerate harmony together. Avon took two that claimed to be siblings, placed them on a worktop and waited to see what the next stage in the process would be.
Morgan picked up a round bellied pot with a spout and spooned what looked like dried leaves into it, then added water from the kettle when it boiled. That seemed to complete the second stage of the proceedings. After a couple of minutes delay, the tea was then poured into the mugs.
Sugar? It had been so long since Avon had programmed the food processor to his particular taste that he'd virtually forgotten what it was.
Two spoonfuls of sugar taken from a delicate flower-decorated bowl joined the liquid in each mug.
People put milk in tea? Avon barely repressed a shudder.
"No, thank you."
Morgan stirred the tea with a small spoon, then pushed a mug along to Avon. He paused a moment, as if trying to remember where he'd put something, then took a cream-coloured tin out of a cupboard and removed the lid. Biscuits. Different in appearance, but recognisably biscuits. It was nice to know some things were constant. Avon took one, crunched it while waiting for his drink to cool and watched Morgan. Morgan dunked his biscuit in his tea. Such a simple action, but the familiarity of it tore at Avon. Blake had dunked his biscuits in just the same way.
A loud ringing sound startled him from his thought.
"What the hell is that!"
Morgan's brow furrowed in puzzlement. "Telephone," he said, as though stating the obvious and moved heavily into the hall, leaving Avon to ponder on the impossibility of trying to pass himself off as belonging to this time and place. There were going to be a thousand things like this to trip him up. The ringing noise stopped and Morgan started talking in his slow, unhurried voice.
"Lee." He sounded pleased.
"No. I got a visitor.
"Man had an accident near Blainau. Can't remember anything; amnesia, the doctor called it.
"I'll be fine." That sounded virtually like a protest.
"Good to hear from you, son."
Avon tried to identify the difference when Morgan reappeared. He seemed fractionally more relaxed, almost cheerful, a man who'd been granted a topic of conversation.
"Lee, my nephew," Morgan offered by way of explanation. "He's seventeen. A good lad." He nodded. "Used to help me on the farm. He do worry too much."
Avon couldn't rustle up much interest in Morgan's nephew, but the memory of Blake's murdered family schooled him to politeness. "Do you have any other relatives?"
"Just Lee and my sister Val."
Not many of them, then. Who had that room belonged to in that place where he'd woken up?
"Who's the Old Lady?"
"My mam," Morgan said shortly. "She died the end of last year." He gripped his hands tightly around his mug and stared into it.
Avon sensed a forbidden subject and skirted clear. "About the telephone," he began. "There's a lot I don't remember. Whole areas in fact."
Morgan didn't seem reassured by this change of topic. Quite the converse. His shoulders tensed and his grip on the mug tightened even further.
Avon ploughed on. "I don't remember the government. I can't recall which towns are where. There's all sorts of trivial things I'm going to have problems with." He tried to modulate a convincing sounding plea. "Morgan, I'll need your help."
"Help!" Morgan flung the word back with violence, staring Avon right in the eyes. "How can I help? It's my fault!"
Avon stared back incredulously. "Your fault?"
Morgan stood rigid, knuckles white with tension. "I hit you. You were bothering me. You wouldn't leave me be." His voice broke on the last word.
"Wonderful." And he was staying in the same house as this maniac? "Do you normally go around assaulting complete strangers?"
"You knew me," Morgan asserted stubbornly.
"Oh, I see." Avon smiled, sarcasm personified. "You prefer to hit people who know you?"
"I know it was wrong. I knowed it then, but you-" He clenched his fists, struggling with some inward demon.
Guilt. Avon recognised it with ease. Blake was a master of guilt. Morgan simply had less ability to handle it. Blake had been able to use his own guilt as a tool to manipulate everyone else. He'd been given a gift here; guilt would allow him to control this man, get whatever he needed from him. He'd always wanted Blake at his mercy - now he had him. But it would be a tainted victory. If he controlled Morgan this way, it would be through a lie.
Blake and he had at least been honest with one another.
"Morgan-" the words were hard to say "-it's not quite like that. I lied to you."
There was hurt in Morgan's eyes; hurt, but no surprise. The eyes of a man who had been betrayed before.
"There are things I don't remember, but only some of it is due to the head injury. I don't come from here." Avon hesitated, seeking the right words. How did one explain time travel? How much was known in this era? "Have you heard of a man called Albert Einstein?"
"I've heard." Caution rather than interest.
"Then you'll know of the theory of relativity."
"But surely-" He stopped. Blake was an engineer by training. If Morgan was a true double of Blake, then he would have Blake's intelligence, but not his background.
"I left school at fourteen." Avon could hear the bitterness under the flat words and burned with sudden inward anger at the waste of human potential.
"Why?" he demanded in outrage.
"I was needed on the farm." No emotion at all now: Morgan had himself well under control.
If Blake had been cursed by the absence of memory, it seemed that Morgan was cursed by too much of it.
"Forget Einstein," Avon said. "I've come from the future." He spread his hands palm upwards on the table. "I don't know if that makes any sense, but it's the truth."
Morgan eyed him cautiously. "Like Dr Who?"
"On the television."
"Never heard of him."
"Load of nonsense, anyway."
But in spite of Morgan's denial, Avon could sense hope there, as if any excuse was acceptable to lift some of that burden of guilt. He rummaged in his pockets. Surely there had to be something there. With a feeling of triumph, he fished out the slender shape of a laser probe.
"Here. Do you have anything like this in your time?"
"What is it then?" Morgan asked with slow curiosity.
"A laser probe." He flicked a control to demonstrate, calling out the short intense beam of light.
Morgan snorted. He walked over to the cooker, picked up a thin, cylindrical metallic gadget and positioned it while pressing a button. Sparks came out of the end, igniting the gas from the cooker.
"Do you have anything like that in your time?" he inquired dryly.
Avon couldn't help it. He burst out laughing. A moment later Morgan joined in.
Morgan looked different when he laughed. It took years off his age, relaxed him, showed the good humour buried under the strain. Avon raised his mug in mock salute. "You win. I can't prove I'm from the future." Ironic really. If Morgan had had a decent education, it would have been child's play. Mathematics, electronics, physics, in any of those fields Avon could have shown that he had knowledge beyond this time, but what good was such knowledge when dealing with a man who didn't have the background to understand it? "Look, accept it as a working hypothesis, it'll make life easier."
Avon's ear caught a hint of suspicion. "You don't know what I'm talking about, do you?"
"Damn you, and there's no need to use fancy words like that."
Pride. Vila would have mocked him for a word like hypothesis, but Morgan hid from things he didn't understand. "Hypothesis: theory. Just assume I'm telling the truth until I make a mistake." He could tell from Morgan's face that it wasn't going to be enough. Hurt required something more in exchange; the question was simply a matter of how much he was prepared to pay.
"I do have amnesia," he began, "but it's not total. I don't know how much I've lost of my life - it could be anything from a few days to a couple of years. I can't remember what happened before the accident. I don't know how I came to be here or why I'm here, except that it has to have something to do with you."
"You look like someone I once knew."
"Blake? Friend of yours?"
That was a decidedly unfair question. How did you describe Blake? 'Revolutionary' was likely to give too many wrong ideas about himself, 'acquaintance' was too remote, 'enemy' wasn't totally accurate, 'fanatic madman' wasn't exactly the best term to use around Blake's double. Avon sighed.
"You could say so." He twisted his mug around on the table. "Blake claimed that he trusted me."
"And you expect me to do the same?"
"Not expect. Hope."
Morgan sounded defensive. "Maybe."
They finished their tea in silence.
Avon drained the dregs from his mug and looked around.
"Problem?" Morgan asked.
"Maybe not. Is that where you clean things?" He gestured at a recessed area in the worktop. They were bound not to have recyclers in this era.
Morgan resolved the issue by taking the mug from him and rinsing it under the tap. Sitting upended on the drainer, the mugs were the only two points of colour in the bland whiteness of the kitchen. By unspoken mutual consent Avon and Morgan moved back into the lounge with its hotchpotch of shapes and colours. Here, everything seemed to have been crammed in that possibly could be. A table and two high-backed chairs squeezed in beside a heavy wooden sideboard, barely leaving space for Morgan's armchair and the sofa. The viewscreen sat in a corner, badly positioned should more than one person want to watch it. Everywhere there were nicknacks: the accumulated debris of a lifetime. Mankind might have escaped into space, but the desire for trivia had gone with him. Avon thought with an inward sigh of Vila's collection of pin-ups and holo-vids, and Dayna's seashells gathered from the shores of Arnos IV. All beyond reach now.
He picked up a pottery figurine from the sideboard, a woman in a flounced pink skirt that reached to her toes. Painted ribbons decorated her bonnet and bodice, and another was tied around the crook that she held in her hand. Two snow-white lambs gambolled at her feet, chasing each other in some game whose rules were known only to the potter who had created them.
None of the women he'd seen here had been dressed like this.
"What is she?"
"Shepherdess. My Mam's aunt gave it to her. She never liked it - said it was a mockery of farming."
"Why keep it then?"
Morgan looked shocked. "Was a present."
Devilry teased at Avon to drop the offending item. He could always say it was an accident. He tossed the shepherdess lightly from one hand to the other, caught agonised panic in Morgan's eyes, and regretfully replaced her in her position with a half smile and a raised eyebrow that asked how Morgan could possibly suspect him of such a thing. He tapped a miniature brass rocking chair with his finger, set it wobbling back and forth. He was willing to bet that Morgan knew exactly where that came from too. Such things always came as gifts, because nobody in their right mind ever bought them for themselves. Or did they? He himself had nothing, unless you counted the portrait of Anna Grant that Orac had obtained for him. Such things were encumbrances: they tied you to the past with chains of memory and obligation. He'd left his past behind the day he'd stepped on board the London. Five kilos of personal possessions, barely enough for a change of clothing. No room for a past, no room for relatives who'd wanted to forget his very existence as soon as he was convicted.
He tapped the rocking chair again, fighting an irrational urge to stuff it in his pocket and steal a tiny fragment of another man's soul.
"You got a family where you come from?" Morgan asked, eerily reading his thoughts, or perhaps just trying to distract him before he broke something precious.
"None that I care to remember." Even Marc had turned on him in the end with sanctimonious lectures about morality and the need to respect other people's property. Marc, who had taught him all he knew about trinary systems.
"Like that is it?" Morgan shook his head slowly. "Not good."
"I'm not interested in your opinion." He looked around for a source of distraction, picked on the viewscreen and plied the controls until the screen erupted in a burst of white static. Morgan reached over his shoulder and silently turned a dial. A picture formed in black and white, looped over itself a couple of times and then settled down to show a man's head. "-but in the north, showers will persist until late evening-" Avon sat back in the armchair to watch.
Morgan stood silent for a long moment and then went out the back to see to his dog.
It was still light when Morgan returned.
Avon focused his attention away from a debate on the economy and looked up. "Possibly."
"What say you to fish and chips?"
Fish he'd had often enough, bred in the city's water tanks. Chips, if they were what he expected, could be made from several possible vegetables, most of which were reasonably palatable.
"I'll go down the shop then."
Avon got up and switched off the television. "I'll come with you." About the only thing he had gleaned so far was that people in this time were apparently free to criticise their government without any fear of retribution. Meeting this century in the flesh had to be easier than trying to understand it by proxy. He followed Morgan through the kitchen and out the back door and watched as he called his dog from where it sat in a small brick-built shed.
"Come on, Cap." Morgan snapped his fingers by his side and Cap obediently trotted over and allowed Morgan to slip a piece of string through his collar.
What was the dog's function in Morgan's life? Dayna had once spoken of a pet she'd kept on Sarran, a small furry rodent which she had claimed was greatly loved by herself and Lauren. He'd heard of dogs kept as pets though he'd never actually seen one, but Morgan showed the animal no obvious affection and kept it out here rather than in the house.
"Why do you keep it here?"
Morgan looked at him in surprise. "Wouldn't be fair to keep him indoors. Cap's a working dog."
A working dog? Wild visions of the dog's paws trying to pick up electronic components entertained Avon for a moment before he hit upon the more logical explanation.
"He guards the house?"
"I expect," Morgan said slowly. "He's a sheepdog."
The dog's look of wiry strength wasn't misleading then. The predator had to catch and kill the larger animal. Throughout history, man had trained other animals to hunt for him. Blake had enthused over it once, recounting tales of men with birds trained to hunt other birds. "Would you really want to eat raw bird?" Avon had asked. Blake had laughed. "No, I prefer my meat vat grown, but I like the idea of the freedom. The falcon returns, but only because it wants to. Every time the hunter unleashes it, he knows that he runs the risk of it not returning." "I see," - the analogy was pretty obvious - "And what will you do if I fail to return some day?" Serious for an instant, Blake had clasped him on the shoulder: "I'd miss you."
But it hadn't been him who had failed to return, it had been Blake, and he still didn't know why.
"Damn the man," he muttered under his breath.
"Not you. Blake."
Morgan opened the gate. "What he do to you?"
Now there was a question that was impossible to answer briefly.
Morgan said nothing in reply and, perversely, the lack of pressure allowed Avon to expand where he would normally have remained silent.
"We were in a battle. We had to abandon ship. Blake reported that he was safe and on his way to Epheron, but that's the last we heard from him. We've been looking for him ever since."
"And you found me instead?" Just a hint of that dry humour he'd heard before. "Second best, am I?"
Avon found himself unexpectedly warming to the man. He flashed Morgan a smile. "Not necessarily. Not unless you have an insatiable desire to save the galaxy from the forces of oppression."
"Damned if I can save myself from that." The humour was gone as if it had never been.
They walked down pavements of rain-darkened flagstones, the new uniform houses of the estate giving way to older, more random buildings. The pavements narrowed, pinning them onto a thin strip barely wide enough to provide refuge from the traffic. Grimy stone shops displayed windows full of strange and fascinating goods, enticing in the early evening light. Slow Morgan's pace might seem, but it was deceptive; his stride ate the ground in the manner of a man accustomed to walking long distances. They passed the shops with barely a chance for Avon to do more than glance at the contents. There were people here, but they kept themselves to themselves: a group of boys sitting smoking on a wall staring at passers-by; a woman in a short skirt, heels clicking briskly on the pavement as she went past; an old man, staring into a shop window; Avon took them all in. Knowledge was survival.
Eventually he asked, "What happened?"
"I had a farm. I don't have it no more."
He knew without being told. The old house on the hillside. That place of ghosts and empty memories.
"Fifty years," Morgan exploded angrily. "Fifty year Blainau were in the family, and they took it from me. Nothing personal, they said. Got to make a profit. Sheep don't pay any more."
"And then they took even that from me." Blake's voice. Late one evening when they'd finished their shift on the flight deck, Blake slowly sifting through the fragments of his former life, piecing it painstakingly together. It wasn't just the physical loss: the deaths of friends, the loss of his home, a life living in exile; it went deeper than that. It was the loss of his past, the personal things, a bitter resentment of what they'd taken from him.
He sensed that same loss in Morgan. The hurt went deeper than the loss of a job; it was the loss of a sense of self. Whatever had made Morgan what he was, was rooted in Blainau.
Another corner, another street, a huddle of people on the pavement talking animatedly, bright light in the shop behind them. Smells of food, strong and pungent but nothing that Avon recognised. The sign over the window read 'Fish 'N' Chips' and was accompanied by a cartoon of a fish balanced on its tail carrying a tray of food in one flipper and wearing, for some unfathomable reason, a tall white hat.
Morgan tied Cap to a lamp-post and worked his way in with a string of 'excuse me's; Avon, less polite, relied on elbows. Inside, there was more space. It was warm, almost too warm, the heat hitting them in a wave as they entered.
"Pie and chips," called a voice from behind the counter.
A young man in faded blue trousers reached out to collect a paper-wrapped package and left with his friends.
A large poster on the white-tiled wall described thirty species of North Sea fish, none of which was familiar to Avon. If he'd ever thought about it at all, he had vaguely assumed that fish were limited to three or four varieties at most. He examined it briefly, wondering how many species had to be in the other oceans of the world. Fifty? A hundred? The menu beside the poster was more restrained; it limited its fish options to cod and haddock. Avon considered the additional imponderable merits of mushy peas, faggots and pineapple fritters.
"What'll you have?" Morgan asked.
"Whatever you're having."
Morgan studied him for a moment, then turned to the woman behind the counter. "Two medium cod and chips, please." He paid over an assortment of notes and coins and she pressed some controls on a machine in front of her, placing Morgan's money in a drawer that flew open. Two brown coins were handed back as change.
Avon itched to examine the money. What did it look like? Would it be easy to forge? Whatever he did in this time, he was going to need money. He couldn't remain dependent on Morgan for long. He needed clothes and equipment. He needed to find a way to get back home.
Morgan pocketed his change and moved to stand next to Avon, leaving room at the counter for two men entering the shop. "Be ready in a few minutes," he said.
A dark-haired youth in the doorway paused, predator scenting prey.
"Got a new friend, Morgan?" A sharp voice, accent reminiscent of Morgan's but with the words spoken faster.
"The boy not enough for you then?" his companion added.
"Aren't you going to introduce us?"
Morgan stood stiff and solid. "Take no notice."
The sharks pressed closer.
"Looks more your size, Morgan. I'll bet he's really something."
"All that leather, too. What would the Old Lady have said?"
The frozen expression on Morgan's face conveyed distress more acutely than a volume of protestations would have done. Avon stepped forward, light on his feet, with the kind of smile that he normally reserved for Servalan, bright and dangerous. "I don't believe we've met," he murmured. "I don't believe I want to meet you. Do I make myself clear?"
"Price didn't mean no offence, did you, Price?" He elbowed his companion.
"Shut up, Graham." Price ignored him, to stare at Morgan. "I hear old man Griffiths have offered you my job."
"Two cod and chips," a voice called out from behind.
Morgan turned rapidly to collect his package. Avon stayed still, watching his opponents, alert for any movement, then fell into step with Morgan as he walked out the door into the street.
"That wasn't necessary," Morgan said gruffly as he untied Cap. "I can fight my own battles."
"I choose who I fight." The sun was sinking in the sky, but was still bright as they walked towards it. "Besides," he gestured at his stud-embossed, leather jacket, "my presence made it worse."
"They'd have done it anyway." Morgan's voice was slow and solid. He looked ahead, not meeting Avon's eye.
Respecting that desire for privacy, Avon dropped the subject.
Their footsteps sounded loud together on the flagstones with Cap's claws clittering out of sequence beside Morgan. Odd how two people together always ended up walking in step. Avon shuffled a half step experimentally to break the pattern. Morgan glanced at him, said nothing. Ten seconds later they were in step with one another again, although which of them had changed pace was impossible to say.
On the outskirts of the modern housing estate, Morgan volunteered: "Griffiths fired Price for messing around with his daughter. He have offered me the job."
"Helping around the farm. There's always work for a man with a good dog."
Just what was involved in farming in this day and age? He'd been around the hydroponic farms with every child in his class as part of their education. Farming outside the dome was only carried out by Outsiders; the residual radiation levels were still too high for food to be eaten safely in any quantity, although there had been talk of authorising its use for deltas. He'd never studied farming in the Outer Worlds - there was a lot of use of slave labour, but that was about all he knew. On frontier worlds, machines simply weren't economic, not when it could take six months for a spare part to arrive. People bred their own replacements. When a world was prosperous enough to support its own factories, mechanisation would follow.
"Are you going to take the job?"
"I'll talk to Griffiths on Monday."
They turned past a row of houses with neat white picket fences and pampas grass on the front lawns. Nearly back now. Work, Avon reflected, was wonderful stuff as long as you didn't have to do it. Like Vila said, he could sit and watch people do it all day. Tinkering around on Liberator, exploring and repairing its systems, he probably put in far more hours than he ever had in his days on the Teleport Project. There were times when he'd enjoyed the challenge of working on the computer analysis of matter transmission, but there were also days when he'd spent half his time filling in forms and shuffling paperwork. Blake might have been autocratic, but at least he hadn't required requisitions to be sent to three separate departments.
"Well, at least you've got the choice."
"Choice?" Morgan rounded on him in fury. "And what else would I do, say? All I know is farming. When did I ever have a choice?"
Crisp batter covered the fish, the texture pleasant and crunchy in strong contrast to the sogginess of the chips. The chips smelt appetising, but the paper certainly hadn't soaked up all the grease. Morgan speared another chip and glanced across the table at Avon. Avon managed a reassuring expression and tried to shake ketchup over his chips. It came out the bottle in a sudden dollop and splopped onto his plate, splashing onto the table.
Morgan wiped up the spill with a handkerchief. "There's a knack to it," he said slowly. "You'll get it in time."
Fatigue slumped on Avon like a shroud. The endless minor necessities of this time and place were a burden that required too much effort to learn and remember. Morgan's solid undemanding patience seemed the only thing that stood between himself and chaos. No one in the hospital had understood. They'd accepted his story of amnesia, shown him what a toilet looked like, loaned him an electric razor, shown him how to use it and been generally sympathetic, but he'd had the feeling of being an oddity on display. Even amnesiacs were supposed to know that 'Gents' indicated a men's lavatory. He didn't sense that from Morgan. Whether Morgan believed he was from the future or not was hard to tell, but there was something curiously non-judgemental about him. It was as though he had simply decided to accept Avon at Avon's own evaluation of himself and there the matter rested.
Morgan pulled the ring on a can and poured a smooth glass of beer for Avon, then one for himself. Another time, Avon would have preferred wine, but the beer slipped down smoothly and the bitter taste was welcome. Blake had been a beer man. Coincidence? Apart from the physical resemblance, he could find nothing of Blake in Morgan. It wasn't just the voice, even the body language was different. Morgan lacked Blake's ability to reach out to people. Blake's passionate enthusiasm had swept many before it, but Blake had been alive with dreams. If Morgan had ever had dreams, they had died to embers long ago.
Avon took another swallow of his beer. He was beginning to feel a little dizzy, but he hadn't drunk enough for the alcohol to have any noticeable effect. In retrospect, walking down to the shops had probably been a mistake; the doctor had warned him to take it easy for a few days. He ate a few more chips and toyed with the fish, but smells that had been appetising before now left him with a faint feeling of nausea. Pain was building in his head; he pressed fingers against his temples, but it did not help.
"You all right?"
Avon shook his head, but that only made the feeling worse. "I need to lie down," he said reluctantly.
"Come upstairs then. I've made up the Boy's bed."
Abandoning the rest of his meal, Avon followed. He clutched at the handrail, glad of its support as he went up the stairs. The bedroom was at the back of the house, small in comparison to his Liberator cabin, but sufficient. A dark wooden wardrobe stood in one corner next to the window and a single bed against the opposite wall. There were no personal possessions apart from a large poster of a team of men dressed in blue and white with the legend 'Manchester City' under it.
Morgan caught him studying it. "Do they play football where you come from?"
Avon sat on the bed, which felt lumpy under him. "No. Is it anything to do with spat?"
"Maybe." He looked at Avon as if awaiting a further comment, then said, "You'll be needing some night-clothes."
Avon sat still, staring at the cream-coloured paint and listening to the background noise. This place lacked the silence of Blainau: there was the noise of traffic, occasional shouts from children outside and indistinguishable words from somebody holding an argument in the house next door. The noise provided subliminal reassurance that he wasn't alone. Apart from people, but not isolated from them; that was how things should be. It wasn't a thing he'd ever thought about until - until when? For a moment, he'd remembered the hell of being in solitary confinement, but that was ridiculous, because he'd never been in solitary confinement. Morgan's return was a welcome distraction from a sudden increase in his headache.
He held out a pair of worn striped pyjamas. "A bit large, I dare say. They're all I have."
Avon accepted them without comment. He'd already realised that the words 'Morgan' and 'sartorial splendour' were incapable of existing in the same sentence. Besides, he just wanted to go to sleep. If only his head would stop pounding.
"Aspirin?" Morgan asked.
"For the head. Do you want?"
Whatever witch-doctor remedy it happened to be, he was willing to try it. "Why not."
Morgan produced a small bottle of white tablets and handed it over. "You'll need water. Bathroom's next door." He stood hesitant. "I didn't think to buy anything. You've got no washing things and the shops are shut 'till Monday. There's a clean towel in the bathroom, but that's all I got."
"Brilliant," Avon muttered under his breath, but he was too tired to argue about it. "I'll manage."
As the sun set, the stars began their old familiar wheeling dance, points of light turning across the sky, obeying the eternal rules of time and season. They had been there when Gwen and Ivor Thomas first came to Blainau nearly fifty years before and they would still be there long after the gravestone in the old churchyard was lost in undergrowth and forgotten. Yet there were new dancers in the sky, short term partners in the great display. Unheard of when Morgan had been born in the old stone farmhouse before electricity or telephones had found their way into the Black Mountains, they now spun in their tight polar orbits, passing across the sky in mere minutes, too impatient to spend the entire night on a journey as their elder brethren did. If their resolution had been just a touch finer, the spy satellites might have been able to pick out Morgan's hunched figure sitting in an empty backyard with an arm around his dog.
Morgan Thomas was not a man given to introspection, but the stars stirred memories even in him. Over Blainau they would be shining on Tom Griffiths' sheep in fields where Morgan's had grazed only weeks before. He didn't blame Griffiths for that; the man had always been a good neighbour. He blamed the estate, with the kind of hatred that he reserved for inanimate things such as VAT and income tax. The estate was an impersonal juggernaut that cared nothing for family or tradition, only the sum of money in its account books. The work that his father had done in reclaiming pasture, the steady grind of work that Morgan had carried out every day of his adult life, all counted for nothing.
He'd given up, that's how his father would see it. He could hear the Old Gentlemen's voice shouting at him in anger, "You're too soft, boy. Too damned soft!" Dead fourteen years, but Morgan still couldn't escape that anger and the blows that accompanied it.
He'd tried. He'd struggled on against falling livestock prices and an intimidating volume of paperwork. He'd hung on alone in the loneliness of the hills, hung on after the Old Lady's death when every day seemed emptier than the one before it and only old Pugh's help during the day had prevented him from being alone from dawn till dusk. Lee's coming had been a gift from God and he'd accepted it without question. The boy had given him company, hope and a stake in the future. For a while, he'd lived, rejoicing in having family around him once more; then had come the inevitable downturn with rising debt, increased pressure from the estate and the final backstab of Pugh's retirement.
He rubbed his face into Cap's fur, refusing to let tears escape. At least he'd spared the boy. He'd betrayed his parents by giving Blainau back to the estate and they would never forgive him, but he'd saved Lee from the trap. Lee would never become another Morgan, bound to Blainau by blood and guilt. He hadn't done to Lee what his own parents had done to him.
Lee had gone home and that was right, but Morgan's own escape route had been cut off. He'd made his final farewell to the Old Lady whom he'd loved with all his heart and had been ready to leave a world that had become intolerable. Then the stranger had come and saddled him with new obligations.
Cap butted Morgan's face and whined. Morgan responded by scratching the dog gently behind the ears and whispering meaningless words to him, a mixture of insults and endearments. Cap was the only friend he had left now. The dog's presence was warm and comforting and he silently soaked it in, giving of himself in return. The stars might be familiar companions too, but they offered no comfort. Morgan knew how many were missing - out in the hills they were a myriad of bright diamonds; here, competing with the glare of the street lamps, they were dimmed and as lost as he was. He watched them for a few more minutes, then, because he had no choice, he went to visit a friend who had betrayed him.
When Avon awoke it was already light outside. He rolled over and tried to stretch the kinks out of his back. The lumps in the mattress, that had seemed minor irritants last night seemed to have grown out of all proportion, and the crater in the centre drew every limb towards it with the tenacity of a minor black hole.
Avon didn't like mornings. He couldn't ever recall ever having liked mornings. Blake, of course, was one of those irritating people who had the ability to leap out of bed at a moment's notice and seemed surprised when other people preferred to go back to sleep. Avon definitely preferred evenings. Once he had his teeth into an interesting problem, he could gnaw away at it for hours and postpone sleep until fatigue won the battle with fascination.
With some relief, he noted that there were new clothes on the chair beside the bed - the idea of wearing the same underwear again hadn't exactly appealed. Actually, 'new' was probably too generous a term for the garments but they were at least clean. He sat up and investigated further. The charcoal-grey jacket and trousers looked too small to belong to Morgan; they were definitely closer to Avon's size even if they weren't a perfect fit. A lucky-dip, rather like the Liberator's clothes room. One of life's minor mysteries was how the Altas had managed to leave clothes that fitted him so well. Here, however, fate wasn't quite so kind. The shirt and underpants fitted him well enough, but his reflection in the mirror on the wardrobe door showed the jacket to hang badly on him and the trousers to be a fraction short even if they fitted well enough around the waist. His own jacket would look far better but, mindful of the attention it had drawn the previous evening, he decided against it. He owed Morgan that much at least.
Money. He had to have money and soon. How? Earn it or steal it? How efficient were the law-enforcement systems around here? Was there any scope for fraud? Did they even have computers? Frustration bit at him. There was so much to learn. Time to pick Morgan's brains - always assuming that Morgan would know a computer if he fell over one.
He made his way downstairs to look for the man in question, but a quick glance in both kitchen and lounge revealed that Morgan wasn't there. A slightly less cursory search turned up a note on the lounge table in large rounded handwriting: "Gone to church. Back by twelve."
Church? He really had ended up in the Dark Ages. Avon tried to recall if he had ever met anyone with religious beliefs. There'd been that girl in biosystems who'd once let slip that she held prayer meetings with a group of friends - did she count? He suspected that she'd done it for the illegal thrill rather than out of any real sense of conviction and he hadn't bothered to report her. Besides, she'd been providing useful data for his analysis; if she'd been imprisoned, it would have set the Teleport Project back by several weeks at least. The deadlines had been tight enough as it was.
So Morgan believed in a god then? What did that imply about him? Gullibility, obviously. What else? Maybe everyone here had similar beliefs. So many things to learn.
What about breakfast? Avon wasn't a hundred percent sure that his body clock tied in exactly with local time, but his stomach seemed to think that it was time for a meal. Would Morgan mind if he fed himself? Avon made his way into the kitchen and started opening cupboards. There was a bewildering array of containers and cardboard boxes, none of which made any sense at all. 'Cornflakes', 'soda', 'suet', 'flour', 'coffee' - well, he recognised that one. There were no instructions on the jar, however, so he put it back on the shelf and located the tin that held the tea.
He found the spark-lighter and, after turning the wrong knob on his first attempt, managed to get a flame going on the stove. Inordinately pleased by this, he put water in the kettle and set it to heat while he spooned shredded leaves into the teapot. Deciding on the biscuits as the only item he knew to be safe to eat, Avon helped himself to half a dozen while waiting for the water to boil.
A loud buzzing sound came from the hallway.
He went out and picked up the telephone, which made a purring noise at him. The buzzing came again. Not the telephone then. The silhouette of a man was visible through the frosted glass of the front door, so Avon walked over and examined the door control. He pressed the knob, but that did nothing so he tried turning it. That seemed to do the trick; the door opened to his pull to reveal a stranger. An old man, he looked as though he had shrunk with age, leaving the skin wrinkled over his face like a dried fruit. His hair was white and straggly, but the life in his eyes denied any suggestion of decrepitude.
"Captain Kirk is it?" the stranger demanded cheerfully.
Avon stared at the apparition.
"Morgan not back yet?"
He shook his head.
"Cat got your tongue?"
"No it has not," Avon snapped back. "Morgan said he'd be back by twelve."
"You can talk then. Morgan said you were an odd one."
Avon's opinion of what Morgan could do with himself was cut off short by a cloud of steam drifting down the hallway. The stranger pushed past him.
"Kettle's boiling dry!"
Avon stood aside and watched as he turned off the gas, added more tea to the pot and filled it with water. He helped himself to a mug from the drainer.
"Where's Morgan keep the sugar now?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," Avon said with disdain.
The other man looked round, located it on the worktop behind him and added two spoonfuls to his own mug before pouring in tea and some milk appropriated from the fridge. "There's no need to be so high and mighty, boy."
"My name," Avon said through gritted teeth, "is Avon."
"So it is, boy. I'm Pugh Davis. Morgan told you about me, I dare say?"
"No. He. Did. Not."
"Typical Morgan." Pugh looked him up and down. "Did you think it was the tooth fairy left you something to wear?"
There wasn't any answer to that. He was tempted to rip off the suit and stuff it down Pugh's throat, but the satisfaction wasn't quite worth the risk of annoying Morgan by assaulting his friend.
Llanelieu church is said to be one of the oldest churches in Wales. Strong stone walls protect it from the elements and narrow, high-pointed windows allow sunlight into its whitewashed interior. If you stand on the short smooth turf in the churchyard on a Sunday morning and listen, you will hear the congregation singing the old hymns. The new songs are rarely heard here - the congregation are mostly of the older generation and they prefer the tried and familiar.
Oh God our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Morgan sang with the rest, barely needing the hymn book to keep track of the words. There was a comfort in the ritual that eased the abraded edges of his soul, but his uncomplicated faith had taken a severe battering recently and even this assurance of God's eternal love was no longer enough to reassure him.
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.
The hymn came to a harmonious, if unsatisfying, end and the vicar
embarked on his sermon. A young man, the vicar had been here barely five
months but Morgan accorded him the respect that he automatically gave to any
man of the cloth. Though he tried to concentrate on the sermon, his mind
wandered, eyes tracking the drifting dust motes caught in a shaft of sunlight
that lanced through the window beside him.
less and without purpose, they seemed to reflect his own state all too well. The vicar spoke of love: of the commandment to love God and to love thy neighbour. He expounded on charity and the need to help others less fortunate, not only to help them but to do it with love. Morgan considered that with a portion of his attention. On the whole, he thought it a low blow. He'd accepted his duty regarding Avon, but Morgan was a man who was cautious in his friendships and though Avon's presence made the house less empty, he wasn't family. The vicar, warming to his theme, returned to God's love, to the love so great that it encompasses everyone, protects everyone, gives hope to the living and comfort to the dying. For a moment, Morgan felt it, felt the warmth of his mother's love, and then it was gone. There were some things that neither God nor his parents could forgive.
The service over, he made his way out of the coolness of the church into the May sunshine. Spring came later in the hills, but now it was almost summer. Speedwell flowered in profusion in the grass, tiny blue stars on a green sward. His mother had liked flowers, always had a small garden at Blainau. He stopped by the grave, uncertain, cap folded in his hand. They live on in you, the vicar had said two days ago. The thought was as terrible now as it had been then.
"Don't be so stupid, Morgan!"
"Don't talk like that."
"I'll take a belt to you for that, boy."
"Go see to the cows."
"Why can't you be like Griffiths's boy?"
"Do what your father says, Morgan."
"We need you, Morgan."
"Your sister broke your father's heart when she left."
"Blainau is our home."
"I could never manage without you."
"I love you, Morgan."
Morgan turned to leave but his eye was caught by a bird's mess on the gravestone. He stopped and wiped it off with a handkerchief.
"What are you planning on doing?" Pugh asked.
They had drifted into the lounge, more for somewhere to sit down than from any desire for each other's company.
"I don't know," Avon said shortly. He had a strong desire for a detector to calibrate or a piece of malfunctioning hardware to dissect, anything to give him an excuse to avoid this irritating man's conversation.
"You really think you're from the future?" Pugh was definitely a sceptic.
"I was obviously delirious."
"You've recovered your memory, then?"
Pugh's eyes pinned him sharply from under shaggy white brows. "I don't know why Morgan's taken to you, but he's been a good friend to me, and I wouldn't want to see him hurt."
Avon raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Is that intended to be a warning?"
"You got any money? Morgan don't have none."
"Meaning I'm wasting my time if I'm a fraud?"
Pugh's reply was pre-empted by the sound of a key in the front door. Morgan walked in, dressed in a dark suit with a neatly knotted tie, and addressed Pugh.
"What are you doing here?"
"Now there's a fine way to greet someone," Pugh grumbled. "There's tea in the pot," he added, sounding almost apologetic.
Morgan grunted and went to pour himself a mug. Pugh followed. Avon remained; there was a sense of tension between the two men and he had no desire to get caught in the crossfire.
Voices drifted through from the kitchen. As eavesdropping gave Avon no moral qualms, he listened shamelessly.
"How long is he going to be staying?" Pugh demanded.
"Until he's better."
"And how long will that be?"
Pugh had the sound of a man trying to pound sense into someone. "Can you afford it? At least the boy had the Social Security."
"I got some money."
"What you got from selling the stock won't last you for ever. You'll need that for the rent."
"You don't know the first thing about him," Pugh insisted. "He could be on the run from the law, or did you believe that cock and bull story he tried to sell you?"
"All right, I give in!" Avon could imagine hands flung up in resignation. "You've got your company. I'll do what I can to help - I owe you that much at least."
"Pugh..." Morgan sounded as though he was struggling on the verge of saying something.
There was a sound of hand slapping shoulder. "Water under the bridge," Pugh said.
They returned into the lounge where Avon sat reading the Sunday paper.
"Did I tell you about my grandson?" Pugh asked in an apparent attempt at reconciliation.
"No," Avon said without interest.
Pugh turned to Morgan instead. "It's his birthday next week. He's eleven. Why not come round?"
"Why not, Morgan? You're living in town now. Get out a bit more and see people."
Morgan shook his head. "Boy wouldn't want me there."
Pugh didn't press it, but Avon felt there had been more than mere politeness in the invitation.
The two men discussed inconsequentials for a while before Pugh took his leave. At least, Avon assumed they were inconsequentials - most of the conversation seemed to be farming related and went right over his head. It struck him that Morgan was getting a suitable revenge for yesterday's discussion on relativity.
Once Pugh had gone, Avon set aside the newspaper.
"What's Social Security?" he asked.
"You heard that then?"
Avon brazened it out. "Hard not to."
"Money from the government. For people with no work."
"Can I get some?"
Morgan seemed to think that was the end of the conversation until Avon pressed him further.
"How do you get it? Where? When?"
"Lee got his in Brecon. Can't say more than that."
"Can I go there now?"
Morgan looked surprised. "It's Sunday."
The confusion on Morgan's face told Avon that he'd done it again, walked head-first into some law of this society that was so basic an assumption that nobody even questioned it. It irked him that any society could have rules that were not laid out in a clearly defined format for all to see. He had sense enough to appreciate that his own world had invisible rules - it could be argued that the invisible rules had been a large part of what Blake had been campaigning against - but at least they had been familiar rules. Higher grades have right of way in corridors; never place anything where it will block an air vent; shift changes are staggered throughout the day to maximise efficient use of the transport services; children should be protected; viscasts are censored; bribery is illegal but the government would grind to a halt without it; be a good boy or the mutoids will come and drink your blood; murder is wrong, but genocide is simply government policy.
"Sunday's the Lord's day. A day of rest."
"The Lord?" Visions of some benevolent, high-ranking official flitted through Avon's mind: a man who had decreed a universal day of rest for workers. Illogical of course. It made better sense for rest days to rotate to provide cover on maintenance and other essential services.
This time, Morgan's reaction wasn't confusion, but unmistakable shock. Something had been hit deep within him, something that was rising fast to the surface and looked as though it might boil out and explode at any moment. What had he said? Brain in overdrive, Avon strung things together - today was Sunday, Morgan had gone to church today, Morgan believed in a god, deities went by many names - "The Lord God?" he asked, read the answer in Morgan's face and continued smoothly, "We use the name differently in my time. Religion is forbidden by the State. Believers have to be circumspect."
Morgan relaxed slowly. "Bible tells us the early Christians were persecuted."
Christianity. Avon heaved an inward sigh of relief. At least he'd heard of that one. God was called Jesus. The good guys went to heaven and the bad ones to hell. A bit of quick research might be in order though.
"Can I read your Bible?"
Morgan looked uncertain. "I'm not quite sure where it is. Val did most of the unpacking."
Avon assessed that in the light of the little he knew about Morgan. The man went to church, but had allowed Avon to sleep in rather than asking if he wanted to go - that implied that church attendance was neither universal nor compulsory. Morgan owned a religious book, but did not read it regularly. Avon made an educated stab in the dark and placed Morgan's religion as half genuine belief and half habit. A lifetime habit could be just as important to someone as a belief. Habits were what gave life certainty: knowing that the light in his room when he awoke would be at just the right level; knowing that he could walk down to the rest room for breakfast, flirt lightly with Cally, finish his regular meal, head for his first shift on the flight deck, check with Orac for any news of Blake -
He'd allowed Blake to become a habit. Just when did a habit achieve the power of a belief?
Avon stopped too. "Morgan, I'll need your help."
"Closed book to me." He bought his National Insurance stamps and stuck them carefully on their card, but that was as close as he came to understanding the ins and outs of the system.
"It isn't that. Bureaucracy I can manage - it's the little things." Avon pointed back the way they had just come. "What's that red pillar we just passed?"
"A pillar box."
"I can see it's a pillar," Avon said with slightly exaggerated patience, "but what is it for?"
"You post letters in it." It had a slot for letters in the top, what else would you do with it?
"Right." Avon still looked as though he didn't fully understand. "I need you to help me cover up if I make any more slips like that."
It all struck Morgan as being far too complicated. "Why not just tell them?"
"That I'm from the future? No thank you. Pugh thinks I'm either a lunatic or involved in some complicated fraud." He pointed an unerring finger at Morgan. "You aren't quite sure if you believe me or not. I have no intention of spending my time here either in a lunatic asylum or locked up in a government laboratory."
Avon had him to rights there. Damned if he knew what he believed in any more. He gave in to the unavoidable and climbed up the steps into the office. Two women sat behind a counter and, behind them, others beavered away at unguessable tasks. The slam of a filing cabinet drawer made the whole office vibrate slightly in sympathy. As Morgan hovered hesitantly by the entrance, Avon strode confidently towards the older of the two women and, before Morgan's very eyes, transformed into a model of utter charm.
"Excuse me," he murmured. "I wonder if you can help me. I was walking in the hills a few days ago and had an accident. I was taken to hospital with concussion and though I've recovered from that, I have total amnesia. I have no money and no means of obtaining any."
In spite of the fact that Morgan knew the story to be true, there was a glib smoothness in the way Avon told it that rang false; as though Avon were playing a part and had rehearsed it in advance. Morgan felt called upon to do something. He twisted his cap nervously between his hands. "I took him into Casualty; they'd remember him there."
The woman's eyes flicked over him, then returned to Avon.
"Really?" she asked in a voice that suggested she'd had years of practice at resisting charming men wanting money. "Have you claimed unemployment benefit?"
"But you are unemployed?"
She mustered up an expression of bored efficiency. "You're in the wrong office. First left down Albemarle Street and it's the large building on your right. You can't miss it."
In Morgan's experience, the words 'you can't miss it' were an inevitable prelude to getting lost. He held out for more detailed directions, repeating them carefully until he was certain. The attempt might be futile, but he'd agreed to bring Avon here and he'd do the best he could. If Avon failed to get any money, that at least would not be Morgan's fault.
Crisp packets fluttered damply in the wind, hop-skipping their way along the flag stones. As they passed the bus stop, a youth finished another packet and discarded it to the wind that parachuted it upwards until it looped a loop, lost its bell shape and nose-dived to the ground to join a small pile of debris in the wind shadow of an open porch. Avon's fringe fluttered up as the gust caught it, but Morgan's curls under his habitual flat cap defied the elements with the ease of years. They turned into Albemarle Street, the wind hitting them from sideways on now. Capricious it might be, but the wind was a mere shadow of the self it showed up on the mountains. In the deep winter it could whip up into a howling gale that almost lifted you off your feet and drove the snow into deep drifts that had to be fought through before you could get to feed the animals. The wind was an adversary, too neutral to be called an enemy, but an opponent Morgan understood and respected. Here, in the town, the wind was muted and he was muted with it.
A large Georgian building, white stone and sharp corners looking all the better for having been sand-blasted a few years before, loomed up on their right. The steps here were stone, dished with the passage of numerous feet over the years. Without consultation, they walked in together and followed a sign into a room on the right whose door stood open, if not exactly in welcome, at least in permission to enter. Cards pinned onto boards advertised jobs of varying types. As far as Morgan could tell, the one thing that they all had in common was that they required previous experience.
Avon ignored the advertisements and headed straight for the desk where a young woman hastily slipped a paperback novel under a pile of forms.
"Can I help you?"
Avon repeated his story with easy grace as though he were telling it for the first time, adding, "Morgan here has been very helpful in giving me somewhere temporary to live, but I've no way of paying him."
That irked. There was no denying that the money would come in handy, but that wasn't why he'd taken Avon in - he wasn't blind to the debt that he owed.
"Do you know your National Insurance Number?" the novel-reader demanded of Avon.
Avon treated her to a smile that would have done credit to Clark Gable. "I'm afraid not." Suave. That was the word Morgan was looking for. He wasn't at all sure that he approved. Not that the girl wasn't pretty though.
She smiled back at Avon. "We could look you up on the computer. You'll probably be listed there."
"That would be wonderful!"
Avon's instant interest was confusing. If he'd been telling Morgan the truth, then there was no way that he would be listed on any of the records. Doubt hovered; had he been taken for a fool?
"Do you have a driving licence?" the girl queried. "Credit cards, passport, any form of identification at all?"
Avon turned to question Morgan. "Did I have anything on me when you found me?"
"No." Morgan could answer that one truthfully, but he didn't like this being forced into the role of accomplice. "Nurse asked at the hospital. Wanted details for their records, but you didn't have anything."
"Do you remember where you lived?" the girl asked hopefully.
Avon shook his head. "London area, maybe."
"Date of birth?"
"I'd guess I'm in my late thirties, but that's not much to go on."
"That might help," she said happily. "It's rare enough to be worth searching on."
"What bounding parameters do you use?" Avon asked. "Does it operate phonetically or alphabetically?"
She shrugged. "I just type in the name."
She sat back in her chair while the computer got on with whatever computers were supposed to do. Morgan had read an article last week suggesting that by the year 2000 farms might be using computers to optimise use of fertiliser, access market prices instantly and control movement of stock. Utter nonsense - it took a man to know how to run a farm. Tom Griffiths was a modern farmer, and he didn't need any fancy machines to tell him what to do.
The computer beeped. The girl's face slumped in disappointment as she read the screen. Morgan was obscurely pleased. Avon looked regretful - real or assumed, Morgan couldn't tell.
"It could take months to trace me if I'm not on the computer," Avon said. "Do you have any idea why I might be missing?"
She considered that one for a moment. "The register is compiled from Child Benefit Claims and school records. If your mother didn't claim benefit and you went to a public school, it's possible that you never got listed."
Avon's eyes flicked a puzzled question sideways at Morgan, who fumbled a moment, then caught it.
"Never know why they call them public schools. Got to pay a lot of money to go to one of them fancy places."
Avon nodded almost imperceptibly, giving Morgan the odd sensation of having done something right for once.
"It's possible," Avon said thoughtfully. "I had a good scientific education somewhere - I remember a lot in that field. So," his voice became brisk, "what am I entitled to in the short term? I can't ask Morgan to feed me indefinitely."
"You can apply for Supplementary Benefit." Without waiting to be asked, she produced a long form of a particularly virulent shade of purple. "Of course," she added, as Avon picked up the form, "you'll have to fill in an unemployment benefit form first."
"I can claim unemployment benefit?"
"Not without a record of National Insurance contributions."
"Then why does he have to fill in the form?" Morgan demanded. He had the beginnings of a right royal headache. He'd never understood these things, never would understand them. All he wanted to do was to get out of here into the fresh air and escape from this craziness.
Avon seemed totally unruffled. Morgan watched bemused as Avon filled in the two forms, checking occasional details and casually flirting to the point where his co-conspirator was almost prepared to commit the system to paying out an interim payment within two or three weeks provided that the supplementary benefit form was either returned by post (in the envelope supplied) or handed in at the correct office. Avon seemed calm and relaxed in a situation that would have driven Morgan insane. Morgan could see incomprehensible questions and references to other forms and endless boxes to be filled in and somehow Avon was navigating his way through them, cross-referencing other leaflets, bandying around phrases like P45 as though he actually understood them and never once panicking or losing his temper.
Morgan shifted his weight, stared out of the window, and tried not to look too obviously nervous. When Avon finally completed the last form and leaned back in his chair, Morgan breathed heavily in relief. Catching him in the act, the girl gave him a polite smile.
"Not long now, Mr Morgan. Kerr's just got to have his interview."
He noticed Avon's silent flinch with inward amusement. Avon was free enough with Morgan's first name, far less so with his own. "Cultural difference," he'd said; Morgan just put it down to bad manners.
"Interview?" Avon queried. He didn't seem too keen on the idea.
"Just a formality to ensure that you knew about your responsibility to seek for work."
Avon glanced nervously over at Morgan. Morgan didn't respond. Nothing to do with him; they wouldn't let him sit in on an interview. Wouldn't have helped in any case, he was better suited to give the lecture than reply to it. He knew all about the responsibility of work.
While Avon vanished for his interview, Morgan studied the job adverts, eyes moving mechanically from one to another without registering any information. Restless, his mind roamed back to Blainau. There was work to be done there: ditches that needed cleaning out, walls to be repaired, but more important than that, there was the shearing. The shearing and the lamb sales. If he'd held on another month or two, the money would have started to come in. He'd have managed somehow. He could have. He should have. No. He'd seen Lee being dragged under by the strain. One sacrifice to the past was enough.
Griffiths rented the land from the estate now; he'd bring it back into condition.
It wasn't enough. It would never be enough.
An outdoor pursuits centre for school kiddies from London. The farmhouse rebuilt to sleep twelve. Strangers in the room that had belonged to his mother...
Avon's reappearance came as the Relief of Mafeking, saving Morgan from the unbearable siege of his own memories. He put his cap back on by way of an unsubtle hint and waited.
"You've got your UB40?" the girl asked.
Avon nodded. "I'll be back in a fortnight." He smiled, charm laid on like thick butter. "As long as you're here, of course."
Amazingly, she blushed. For a moment, Morgan thought Avon was going to blow her a kiss, but to his relief Avon proved to have at least some restraint.
Halfway down the old stone steps, Avon turned to Morgan, enthusiasm writ deep in the creases around his eyes. "Six months and I could take that system."
"The computer system. Insufficient safeguards on the data. Forge the right entries and you'd be laughing."
"You mean stealing?" Morgan asked uncertainly.
"Of course. It's what I'm good at. The machines are totally different to those in my time, but the interdependency of data is always going to be there. One you see the patterns, you can exploit them."
Morgan gazed out across the street to where a middle-aged woman struggled with a heavy bag of shopping and a rumbustious toddler. It was all wrong. Sensing his mental distance, Avon rested a hand on his shoulder.
He reined his temper in with difficulty, simply stepping aside so that Avon's hand fell away. "Soon as you cash your first cheque, you'll have something to live on. You can find somewhere else to live then."
Hurt surprise flashed in Avon's face for a brief instant before it was masked with a cold, calculating blankness. Predator eyes measured him. Then Avon smiled, easy, insincere. "Whatever you say." He waved a casual hand towards the road. "Shall we go?"
Inertia pulled Morgan down the steps, tugging him in Avon's wake. It was easier to follow than to decide what else to do. Avon seemed to know where he was going and Morgan flowed with the tide, despising himself, until Avon stopped outside a familiar looking portacabin.
"We been here," Morgan protested.
Avon flicked him a politely amused glance. "I've a form to hand in."
"Why not back there?"
"Wrong office. They give them out there, you hand them in here. Besides, I have to apply for a National Insurance Number."
"Could have done that when here before."
Avon gave him the kind of withering look reserved for the mentally incompetent and went up the small metal steps with no further comment. Morbid curiosity dragged Morgan after him. A quiet shuffling queue with varying degrees of gloom waited its turn before them. Two youngsters barely out of school, dressed in the defiance that every new generation seemed to find in denim, and an older man ignoring them as studiously as they ignored him. It didn't have to be like that, Morgan thought wistfully. It had taken him time to get used to Lee (he'd never got used to the boy's taste in music), but Lee and his friends had been good company for a while. Leastways the boy had been honest. He found a smidgen of pride in that. Not his doing maybe, but Val had brought her son up well and family was still family. The Old Lady and Gentleman would have been proud of Lee.
Avon joined the queue with an air of calm detachment that ignored everyone present including Morgan. Quietly shutting himself off from the interloper in his life, Morgan went and studied a poster that attempted to explain the pension rights of disabled war veterans. Behind him, the queue shuffled slowly forward, disgorging people first to one desk, then the other.
Alternating between staring out of the window and reading the poster yet again, Morgan tried not to pay too much attention when Avon reached the head of the queue and filtered to the right. If he were in Avon's position, he'd be angry - the woman should have given him his form before. It wasn't right. Not his business though. He moved on to a poster exhorting people to be alert for Colorado beetles. Waste of money warning of potato pests in sheep country.
"I need a National Insurance Number," Avon said.
"You'll need a CF8 to apply for one."
"May I have a CF8?" He might have been asking her to tell him the time.
The gorgon looked at Avon with suspicion, then reached into a box, flicked though a selection of forms of varied sizes and colours and slammed a white one down on the counter. "You can't take it out of the office," she said sharply.
Avon smiled, helped himself to one of her biros and started at the top of the form. He filled in the name KERR AVON in neat block capitals, looked over the rest of the form, turned around to query Morgan for a reluctantly supplied address, filled that in, then handed it back. "I can't remember any of the rest."
She glowered at him, at which point Avon produced the supplementary benefit form with a flourish and deposited it on the desk. This earned him an enhanced scowl which bounced off with no visible effect whatsoever.
What sort of a man was Avon? He'd taken him in all unknowing and was now uncertain what kind of cuckoo had been foisted upon him. Avon showed different faces to different people - how could you tell which one was real? The thought churned slowly round: had he done the right thing? He'd done what he thought was for the best. His head ached. Too many people, too many forms, too many things to worry about. He needed to get out of here.
Finally done, Avon helped himself to a varied handful of forms (though Morgan was relieved to see him replace the one on maternity benefit), took his leave with a debonair smile and walked lightly out of the office.
Traffic rushed past under the grey lowering sky and the air had the oppressive feeling that comes just before a thunderstorm, but all Morgan felt was relief at being out in the open once more. He heaved a sigh and put his cap firmly on his head. As they walked down the street, the first drops of rain began to fall and he found the strength to vent his frustration at the system.
"Load of bloody nonsense!"
Avon didn't seem particularly bothered. "I've met worse."
Avon gripped Morgan's arm, pulled him round to face him. "I grew up in what was probably the most bureaucratic society it has ever been humanity's misfortune to know. If you think that was bad, you should see a Federation change of residence permit. It's a common belief that governments exist to help people. They don't. They exist to appear to help people. The entire function of any system such as that is to appear externally to be useful and available to all, while actually allowing the minimum amount of money or individual choice. However, there is an important point to remember - in order to appear fair from the outside, there must be a way, no matter how difficult or convoluted it actually is, for a person to get what they need. Thus, there is always a route through the system. It may be slow, it may be inefficient, it may be buried under a mass of documents and hidden in the small print but, somewhere, it will be there. You just have to persist until you find it."
Morgan grunted. Noncommittal.
The Land Rover was parked three streets away where there were no yellow lines and no parking fees and, by the time they reached it, the canvas top was dark and heavy from the rain. Avon's hair was slicked dark and smooth, drops of water ran down inside the neck of his shirt and there was a look on his face that suggested he wasn't used to getting wet. Morgan climbed up into the driver's seat, aware of yet another problem: Avon needed an extra change of clothing. He didn't like to ask Pugh again, but new clothes were expensive and he had to find something. His mind skittered warily around the idea of charity shops; the Old Lady had refused to go into Oxfam, said nobody was going to call her a beggar. They might not have been rich, but she'd had her pride.
The strands of the net were drawing around him, pulling ever tighter and cutting off any hope of escape. Until Avon got his money, Morgan had to feed and clothe him - that was only right. Avon might be willing to claim on the Social Security, but Morgan wasn't. If anyone had asked him why, he would have been unable to define his reasons; he only knew that, for him, it was not an option. That left working for Griffiths, something that he'd hoped he would never have to face. He shifted the Land Rover into gear, checked behind him, and pulled out into the road. The traffic was lighter now, but the rain hammering at the windscreen reduced visibility, in spite of the best efforts of the wipers, and made him careful. The drum of the rain was oddly relaxing, it was a white noise that combined with the sound of the engine into something familiar and undemanding. He selected the road out of town and let habit carry him without conscious effort along the oft-travelled route.
Avon alternated between staring out of the window and studying his collection of leaflets, until the countryside settled into endless rain-swept monotony and he concluded the leaflets to be of far greater interest. He worked methodically through the pile, carefully peeling apart sheets that the rain had stuck together. The damp paper had its own smell, but it was nothing compared to the smell of wet canvas that seemed to permeate everything in the Land Rover: it mingled with the other, older smells and worked its way into them, enlarging them and giving them independent life. The result was disconcerting, but not as overwhelming as it had been on his first journey. He recalled Liberator's speed and comfort with wry amusement. There seemed a strange irony in the fact that the slower one travelled, the greater became the number of incidental inconveniences that had to be overcome.
The Land Rover slowed down, as though about to turn down a side road, then speeded up once more. Avon glanced back down the turning. No signpost or anything else to indicate what lay in that direction. He could guess though. Morgan lived in his past, and it seemed an amusing distraction to drag him forcibly into the present.
"Do you have a P45?" he asked casually.
Morgan didn't answer.
"You'll need one if you go to work for Griffiths."
"He didn't mention no documents," Morgan protested.
Avon tapped his leaflet collection with a finger. "If you were previously self-employed, I guess he might give you a P46."
"I don't know anything about no documents," Morgan reiterated stubbornly. "Never needed them before."
It was like arguing with a black hole: things went in, but nothing came out. Baiting Blake would have been far more rewarding. And speaking of Blake, where the hell was the man? Orac had managed to find the occasional lead, but they'd all petered out. Orac was running a step behind the security forces, pilfering from their data banks; by the time Orac got the data, Blake had inevitably moved on. Add in the false leads scattered by Servalan as distraction and the situation became hopeless. He glanced sideways at Morgan, noticing again the broad flat cheekbones and the distinctive sag beneath the eyes. From here, he could see the shape of an ear, half hidden by curly hair. Was that the same as Blake's? He couldn't remember for certain. The line of the jaw, and the shape of the nose - that was Blake all right.
Why? He suppressed an impulse to reach over and grab Morgan by the shoulders, as if he could shake the answer out of him.
It was only when they came to a halt in a open space surrounded by buildings of various shapes and sizes that Avon managed to break his chain of thought and realise that the rain had stopped. This presumably had to be Griffiths' place. The taller buildings without windows would be for storage or hydroponics; the house on the left with the garden would be where Griffiths actually lived. In confirmation of that supposition, Morgan got out of the Land Rover and headed for a white-painted gate set into the garden fence. Avon debated whether to follow. Contrariness inclined him that way simply because Morgan hadn't asked him, but this was another man's home and entering uninvited had to be bad manners in any culture. The issue was decided for him when a short stocky man came down the path to meet Morgan, clasping him on the shoulder by way of greeting. He nodded towards the Land Rover and beckoned Avon to join them.
"So you're Morgan's spaceman?"
Morgan looked faintly embarrassed. "Pugh do talk too much," he protested.
Griffiths chuckled. "And anyone he didn't tell will hear the story from his daughter." He looked at Avon. "So, where are you really from?"
"London, I think. I really can't remember very much, but the doctors say I have a good chance of eventual recovery."
Griffiths nodded in apparent acceptance. "Come inside. Mary's just putting the kettle on."
Avon followed, noticing the neat flowers in the garden and the broad-leafed plant that climbed the walls of the house up towards the tiled roof. It all contrasted sharply with the small clipped patch of grass outside Morgan's house. Inside, the differences were even greater. Coloured rugs lay on stone-flagged floors, and pictures of animals and landscapes hung on walls that were not totally smooth, but showed the irregularity of the stone that they had been built from; Morgan's house was all straight angles and flat surfaces. Griffiths led them along a hallway, past a tall clock that chimed as it struck the hour, and a stand filled with walking sticks and other paraphernalia, into a lounge full of bright floral fabrics and sunlight streaming in through a window filled with small glass panes.
Had Blainau ever been like this before time and ghosts had overtaken it? Somehow, he couldn't quite associate a place like this with Morgan. Griffiths had to be about Morgan's age, but there the similarity ended. Morgan was the taller of the two, but it was Griffiths who dominated the room, his movements brisk and confident; Morgan was hesitant, almost apologetic for occupying the space he stood in. As they stood, discussing livestock prices and recent legislation, a middle-aged woman with her hair in a bun brought in a tray with delicate lace cloth, on which rested a teapot with three china cups and saucers accompanied by a milk jug and sugar bowl, and a plate of biscuits.
"You're really putting the boat out," Griffiths commented.
She put the tray down on a small table. "Morgan's been a good neighbour to us," she replied with mild reproof and bustled out with the air of one who has far more important things to do than listen to three men talking.
Griffiths smiled after her. "Glad you never married, Morgan?"
"A good woman, your wife," Morgan said solidly.
Griffiths glanced at Avon in mock humour. "Ganging up on me, they are." Then he became serious. "Likely you wanted more time, Morgan, but I'm a man short already and with the extra land..."
"Not your fault," Morgan said. "I don't hold that against you."
Didn't hold what against him? Avon had the feeling that there were two conversations going on, one that he understood and one that he didn't. There was a pause while Griffiths poured cups of tea, added milk and sugar to one and passed it to Morgan. "Can you start tomorrow?" he asked bluntly.
Avon tried to read something into that statement and failed. Instinct told him that he was missing something, but he couldn't read Morgan well enough to discern what.
"How about your friend?" Griffiths asked.
"He need work?"
"I," Avon said pointedly, "don't have a National Insurance number." It was the perfect legitimate excuse. He had no intention of taking up farming, whatever the job might or might not involve.
"I could use an emergency tax code," Griffiths suggested, "until you remember who you are."
Avon spread his hands expressively and smiled slightly. "I'm still suffering from dizzy spells. I don't think physical work would be a good idea.
Morgan and Griffiths exchanged glances. Avon knew that look: it was exactly the reaction that he and Blake had had to Vila's endless excuses for avoiding anything that the thief considered to be actual work. That stung. What right did Morgan have to hold opinions about him? A half-illiterate hill farmer wasn't even in the same league as Roj Blake. He'd already become used to Morgan's undemanding acceptance of him and to have judgement passed on both his morality and his work ethic in less than the space of one hour was something that he found irritating and disconcerting.
He picked up his tea, added sugar and kept his mouth firmly shut. He was not going to be baited into doing something he didn't want to do.
The conversation shifted to exclude him once more, becoming an in-depth discussion of work that needed doing on the farm: walls to be repaired, stock to be moved, fertiliser to be applied. Fragments of it were beginning to make sense now. No hydroponics, but an operation based on keeping livestock, mainly sheep and cows.
"That top field's pretty boggy," Griffiths commented.
Morgan agreed with a grunt. "I was going to do it later in the summer."
"Perhaps we can tackle it once the shearing's done." Griffiths' eyes flicked to the mantelpiece clock and Morgan instantly took the hint.
"We'd best be away."
Griffiths was brisk. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
They shook hands, grip positive, business concluded.
The Land Rover stood on the damp concrete, water seeping down from the wet canvas and running down the bodywork to drip in a steady stream of droplets onto the ground. As Morgan and Avon came through the garden gate, a young man crossed over the yard from the barn opposite to accost them.
"Settled things with old man Griffiths, have you?" It was the insolence of the tone, combined with a cautious sideways glance at Avon, that triggered memory. One of the young men from the chip shop: not Price, the other one - Graham.
"I have accepted a job." Morgan's phrasing was formal, the words sounding oddly stilted. His back was stiff as he moved towards the Land Rover.
Avon rather enjoying seeing him put on the spot. It almost made up for Morgan's jibes at his honesty and morality.
"Looking forward to it, are you?" Graham demanded, moving with Morgan, divining with sure instinct that Avon wasn't going to intervene this time.
But he had had all the answers that Morgan was prepared to give.
"Get in," Morgan said roughly to Avon, and climbed into the driver's seat.
Avon flashed a half-smile at Graham, just to remind him who was boss, and then swung his way up into the passenger seat with an easy movement that showed his new-found good humour.
On the way home, they didn't speak to one another.
The sound of booted feet going down the staircase broke him out of the dream. He opened an eye, tried to ignore the early morning sunlight penetrating through the curtains, thumped the pillow, rolled over to face the wall and attempted to go back to sleep. Before he'd managed to settle down again, an unknown but tantalising smell wafted its way upstairs and under his door, beckoning, enticing him to go and investigate what it was. Curiosity won out over the prospect of another tussle with the lumpy mattress and Blake's harangues on the subject of liberty; he dressed quickly and made his way down to the kitchen where Morgan, dressed in old clothes, was frying something.
He paused in the doorway, uncertain of his welcome. They'd largely avoided one another yesterday evening, using the television as an excuse to avoid talking. He still couldn't figure if Morgan had chosen the Welsh language programme deliberately to annoy him or simply because the reception on the other channels was so bad.
Morgan looked round, face neutral. "Bacon? Egg?"
Avon nodded, and watched as Morgan tipped two slices of bacon onto a plate that already had an egg and a pile of fried bread on it. He was expected to eat all that lot? Apparently so. He helped himself to a knife and fork and started to eat with his plate resting on a worktop. It seemed rude to take his meal into the lounge while Morgan was still cooking. Not that he had any great objection to being rude to Morgan, but it was a bit like arguing with Gan; the man simply wasn't equipped for the rapier exchange of insults.
Morgan cracked a fresh egg into the pan and added more bacon. The smell of the bacon as it began to crisp and curl was amazing. Avon added it to rpinth beer and Jenna's favourite perfume on his extremely short list of smells worth preserving for all time. The kettle on the back burner began to whistle. Avon took it and filled the teapot.
"You'll need another spoonful of tea," Morgan said.
Avon raised an interrogative eyebrow.
"I wasn't expecting you."
Now why didn't that surprise him? Probably because Morgan had him labelled as 'idle layabout.' "Do you always get up this early?"
"Work to be done." Morgan turned over the bacon, added some bread to the pan and splashed fat on top of the egg.
Avon contemplated the existence of the work ethic. The trouble with honest upstanding people was that they tended to make the rest of the world feel guilty merely by being around them. Not that he was affected of course.
He tested his own egg. Leathery round the edges, but runny in the yolk. It was a long time since he'd last had an egg that wasn't dried, reprocessed and reshaped into something that bore little resemblance to the original. On the other hand though, the reprocessed version had a better texture and didn't have bubbly brown bits all around the edge. He toyed with the offending item, then chewed it together with a mouthful of fried bread. The bacon was another matter entirely. He took his time with that, savouring each bite. He waved a forkful at Morgan. "What's bacon?"
"Pig." Morgan didn't even look surprised at the question.
Pig. He'd seen pictures. "Don't have them on Earth."
This time, Morgan did look surprised. "Why not? Good animal, the pig. Eat almost anything."
Avon took another mouthful. "We grow meat in nutrient vats. No space in the domes for livestock. Besides, animals are dangerous."
"Pigs is friendly," Morgan protested. "Pigs is almost like people."
Avon chewed his bacon with relish. "Doesn't stop you eating them."
Morgan snorted. "Can't afford to be sentimental."
That caught him by surprise. He'd just about had Morgan pinned as a real bleeding-heart type. "Could you kill one yourself?"
Morgan's eyes focused beyond Avon, looking into some far distant place that only he could see. There was a long slow silence before he finally answered, "No."
Something in the way he said it spoke of hard and bitter memories. Avon's
hand reached out, as though it was an entity independent of himself, to touch
Morgan on the shoulder.
****Kitchen picture**** Morgan's eyes met his, gratitude lurking in the depths like a frightened child. Then he shook his head as though to shake away the reins of the past.
"Can't afford sentiment in farming."
Taking his cue, Avon slipped back into practicality. Besides, there were things he needed to find out. Hardly surprising he'd woken up thinking of money, it had been his last thought before going to sleep. Two weeks at minimum before he got anything from the Social Security, but realistically, it could be far longer. He needed money and he needed it now.
"What kind of jobs are available round here?"
"You got qualifications, say?"
Avon gave him a wry look. "My specialities are trinary logic, data compression and cryptography."
"Not much call for that round here," Morgan said dryly. "They want machine tool operators, legal secretaries, bus drivers - all needs experience."
"What jobs are there that don't need experience?"
"Don't take no training to push an animal through a sheep dip."
Terrific. He could think of half a dozen good reasons not to get involved in farming. It sounded like hard physical work and Avon had a firm belief that the sole reason man had evolved a brain was so that he could program machines to do that sort of thing for him. Besides, if the way Morgan was dressed was any indication, it was not only physical work, it was dirty physical work.
"Griffiths'll need extra hands for the shearing. You could learn that."
"Taking the wool off of the sheep."
Avon tensed. Get close enough to a live animal to be able to remove its wool? Hold it, manhandle it, smell it? The dog was bad enough, but at least Morgan kept it in a shed out the back. Sheep were larger than dogs weren't they? It was always hard to get a sense of scale on viscast images. What about diseases? Could you catch things from animals?
"Frightened is it?" Morgan asked in puzzlement.
"No." He could damn well do anything that Morgan could.
"Give it a go then. What say?"
And he'd thought Blake could manipulate him into a corner? Morgan could have run rings around Blake, because Morgan wasn't even trying to do it.
A curse on 'honest' men.
As the Land Rover approached Fridd Fawr, Morgan slowed it to a halt. Recalling the stop through the vagueness of yesterday's memories, Avon got out this time to open the gate, wrestled for a moment with the unfamiliar catch, then got the knack and pushed, listening to the squawk of the rusty metal hinges as the gate swung wide. Once Morgan was through, Avon shoved the gate back again, harder this time, the gate resisting his efforts, groaning in noisy protest. Logic attributed the effect to the slight tilt of the gate post, but he was in a mood to ascribe malevolent motives to the gate and barely resisted the temptation to kick it.
Sunshine had done little to improve the appearance of the farmyard since yesterday. Concrete was still concrete. Flies buzzed around dark brown splotches of something that smelled distinctly organic; Avon wasn't at all sure that he wanted to know what they consisted of. He picked his way fastidiously over the yard towards where Morgan had parked. Griffiths appeared from a shed and said something inaudible to Morgan, then glanced in surprise in Avon's direction upon hearing Morgan's reply. Avon joined them without saying anything. He'd been stupid enough to come here in the first place, and he certainly wasn't to top that by grovelling to Griffiths.
Griffiths looked him up and down, taking in the borrowed overalls, the black leather boots and the unenthusiastic expression.
"An extra hand will come in useful," he said finally. "I'll pay you the standard agricultural wage, but I'll expect you to earn it."
"I'd hate to disappoint you," Avon said sardonically.
Griffiths stared him in the eye just long enough to make it clear who was paying the wages, then turned to Morgan. "Take him with you up to the three acre field and bring down the flock from there. You know where to take them."
Morgan grunted in assent, nodded at Avon, snapped his fingers to Cap, and walked off without checking to see if either were following. Avon kicked a pebble with the toe of his boot and willed it to hit Morgan by accident. With the wilfulness of stones the universe over, it went wide without its intended target even noticing it, skittering casually over the concrete. A strange dog barked. Beside Avon, Cap streaked into into action, bounding forward, barking for all he was worth, a small black and white bundle of fury. Fast and furious, he shot into the other dog, tangling and snarling into a full blown fight. Morgan swore and shouted at Cap. Griffiths yelled commands to his own dog. Avon cheered mentally as the two dogs ignored their respective owners and became a whirlwind of paws, fur and teeth. Obviously he wasn't the only one spoiling for a fight. Today was rapidly improving.
Morgan waded in, free with his feet, caught Cap by the collar and yanked hard. Griffiths caught his own dog and dragged it away towards the barn. Cap yelped furiously as Morgan cuffed him hard and regaled him with a fluent string of curses. Avon listened with interest. He'd begun to think Morgan didn't even know that kind of language. "Try putajah," he said in a spirit of genial assistance.
"Amagon phrase." He grinned abruptly. "I've no idea what it means, but Jenna used it on me once, so it undoubtedly insults your ancestry to at last three generations."
Morgan bent down, face hidden, to slip a piece of string through Cap's collar, but Avon thought he caught a smile lurking there. "Of course," he continued, "It's possible that she was just recognising my natural genius and abundant charm, but..."
"But as you don't have any-"
Yes, the day was definitely improving. There was hope for Morgan yet.
The track was muddy. Avon looked at his boots with distaste. The borrowed overalls at least spared his clothes, but Morgan's feet were far larger. Trying to wear any of his shoes would have been a disaster. In spite of Avon's best efforts, the leather was streaked with mud and the silver buckles didn't look any better. Superb boots - if only he could remember where he'd got them. The problem gnawed at his mind, scratching at the barrier to memory. If he could only remember one thing from that blank area, then the rest would surely follow. He had to remember, because if he couldn't remember, he would never find out how to get home again.
Morgan was getting ahead of him, striding steadily forward with Cap trotting lightly alongside. Avon paused long enough to wipe the worst of the mud off onto the grass and then caught up again. He felt a moment's obscure jealousy; the dog at least had a function in this society. As to what that function was though, he wasn't quite certain. He'd had it tagged as a hunter, and its behaviour earlier confirmed its aggressive nature, but instinct told Avon that he'd missed something.
On the other side of the hedge bordering the track, sheep grazed. Seeing them this close up, they were even larger than Avon had expected; the pictures he'd seen as a child had given little sense of scale. The sheep seemed placid enough, but you could never be too sure. Intellectually, he knew they were grass-eaters, but he'd still have felt happier with a handgun at his hip. Aliens were easier. They were usually humanoid, and when they weren't you could generally kill them. In the fields, the grass was short, but where he walked the track was bordered by tall plants with feathery leaves and caps of lace-like flowers. Alien worlds always seemed so restricted in their flora, or maybe he'd never visited the ones worth seeing. Perhaps it was only worlds with thin patchy soils and abundant buddleia that spawned rebels. There seemed a logic in that. Why rebel if you led a warm, comfortable, well-fed life? Unless, of course, you were a comfortable, well-fed, bleeding-heart like Blake.
The left-hand hedge terminated at a gate, which Morgan opened.
"Stay in the lane," Morgan instructed him. "Stop them going uphill."
"How?" Avon demanded with a glare.
"Use that tongue of yours on them. Wave your arms. Sheep scare easy."
This was ridiculous. He knew it was ridiculous. There had to be some perfectly rational reason he could give for walking away from this entire situation. He stood in the muddy lane and tried to work one out.
Sheep dotted the field like snow candy tossed at random onto a green carpet. What was supposed to induce them to come through the gate? Then he had his answer, as Cap, in response to a command from Morgan, shot away along the edge of the field. Sheep shied from him, recognising the predator, grouping instinctively together. Cap moved, fast and fluid, in response to a scattergun of commands from Morgan.
"Come by. Come by. Away to me. Don't look to me, look to them!"
Man and dog were a team, instruction, insult and action all flowing together. Avon watched in fascination as Cap herded the flock, snapping at an occasional recalcitrant individual, into a compact group headed towards the gate.
"Stand. Walk up. You're a clown!"
He was in the presence of something he'd never seen before. He'd seen men ride horses, but this was a different kind of partnership. Would the dog do this for anyone, or just for Morgan?
The first sheep came through the gate, milling and heading in every direction. Belatedly, Avon remembered his own task and shouted at them. The sheep refused to be impressed. Avon took a step back, unnerved by the mass of woolly bodies pressing towards him, then resentment won out. He was damned if he was going to be pushed around by a load of sheep. He charged, arms flailing like a broken-vaned windmill.
They scattered suddenly before him, defeated, and they were nothing to be feared any more, just a group of unintelligent animals.
More sheep poured through, to follow their fellows: older sheep with thick fleece enveloping them and this year's lambs, still skittish with less weight to slow them down. The noisy flood dried to a trickle, then a single ewe, chased by Cap through the closing gate. Morgan fastened the gate behind him, nodded to Avon, and strode down the lane to the head of the flock, Cap already racing ahead of him.
They delivered the sheep into a pen leading into a large shed and departed for more. And more. By midday, Avon's legs were tired from constant walking and climbing. The term 'hill farm' was taking on a whole new world of meaning. When Morgan called a halt for lunch, it came as a blessed relief. Avon slumped down in the shade of a stunted hawthorn tree with his back resting against a dry-stone wall. The rough stones dug into his back, and he didn't care. High overhead, a few wisps of cloud drifted in the blue vault of the sky and he could hear an unseen bird singing an endless song that never quite seemed to repeat itself. Morgan sat down beside him and silently handed over a sandwich. Avon ate mechanically, hardly noticing what he was eating, mind fully aware for the first time of the space surrounding him. The air was so clear that he felt he could reach out and touch the horizon. What had seemed bleak and ugly, when viewed in the dark and rain, now took on a surreal beauty. Patchwork fields, trimmed with grey stone walls on the high ground and green hedges lower down, were alive with the hum of insects. Something vivid and fluttering caught his eye and it took a moment's pause before his mind identified it as a butterfly. The flat, sterile, textbook image of a childhood natural history lesson bore no relationship to this living creature that caught the sunlight in brief iridescence. How had his world come to lose this: the scent of sun-warmed grass and the flight of a butterfly? This was his world too: he had a right to such things. A small, brown animal lolloped across the grass, followed by two more. Avon pointed them out to Morgan, with a question.
"Rabbits," Morgan said. "I'll bring a gun up tomorrow."
Laughter bubbled inside Avon, bust free in a delighted chuckle.
"You live in the real world. Blake would probably have founded a society to try and preserve them."
"Rabbits is vermin. Besides, good meat on them."
Avon poured out the last of the tea from the thermos flask and passed it to Morgan. "So what makes rabbits different from pigs?"
"Say?" Morgan looked into his tea.
Avon sighed in exasperation. "Forget I asked."
"Pigs," Morgan said slowly. "When I was young, every family kept a pig. Fed on scraps, see?"
Morgan warmed to his theme. "Like a member of the family, the old pig was. Kiddies would feed him and scratch his back with a stick. Pigs is friendly. Nobody like killing a friend."
"So who did then?"
"My father." He drained the tea in a long swallow. "He was the pig-killer for five miles round. Took a hard man to do that job, a hard man and a strong one, to cut the pig's throat when he's squealing fit to be heard two miles away. Kids used to cry and run away, except for the few that always wanted to watch."
"And you didn't want to."
"Didn't always have the choice. 'Soft,' the Old Gentleman use to say. I was too soft. He retired when I left school - wanted me to take over." Morgan's voice quietened. "Too much for me. He never forgave me for that." He sat silent a moment, then got to his feet. "Best be going. We got work to do."
Stepping into the shearing shed was like taking a physical blow to the senses. The overpowering smell of greasy wool and fresh sheep droppings was intensified by the heat. Sunshine had been heating the corrugated iron roof all morning and the body heat of several hundred sheep simply made matters worse. The shearers didn't count: there weren't enough of them to make any practical difference. Graham, and another man whom Avon didn't know, got up from a hay bale and came over to meet them.
"Come to show us how to do it, Morgan? Jonesy and I have been looking for some decent competition. Of course, we'd have to give you a head start - age before beauty."
Morgan looked down at Graham for a moment. His greater bulk served only to make him look clumsy by contrast, rather than threatening. Then he turned round to reach a set of clippers from a shelf on the wall.
"Oh, I forgot," Graham drawled. "The Old Lady wouldn't have approved of gambling."
Morgan's hand tightened abruptly on the clippers. He picked them up without saying a word, uncoiled the electric flex, and plugged them into a socket on a roof-beam.
"Now, the old sheep-" he began to Avon.
Jones circled one way, Graham the other.
"Anyone would think you were avoiding us."
"Not good enough for you, aren't we?"
"We've made you a friendly sporting offer, like."
Avon hesitated, uncomfortably aware that Morgan would neither expect his help nor ask for it. He was saved from the need for a decision by Griffiths entering the shed.
"You've got better things to do than stand there gabbing."
Morgan's antagonists beat a hasty retreat. Griffiths glanced at Avon, addressed Morgan. "You'll show him what to do?" It wasn't really a question.
"He'll learn fast."
Avon was obscurely pleased by the unexpected vote of confidence. "It can't be any worse than some of the things I've tried in the past."
"Remembering something, then?" Griffiths said sharply, but didn't hang around for an answer, choosing instead to move on and inspect the sheep that had already been shorn that morning.
Avon smiled lightly at Morgan and sketched the trace of a mock bow in his direction. "After you."
Morgan grunted in acknowledgement and strode over to the narrow race where the sheep awaited. Graham, ahead of him, grabbed a sheep, flipping it onto its back in one practised move, and dragged it back to where his clippers rested on the floor.
"She won't struggle when you've got her like that," Morgan said. "She knows she can't get away." Moving slowly, for Avon to watch, he seized the next sheep by a foreleg, pulled its head round with his other hand, twisted it over and pulled. "Now tuck her head and leg under your arm and make your first cut up the belly." The twin sets of teeth of the clippers scythed past each other in rapid vibrations as Morgan suited action to words. "Keep close to get all the wool, but don't cut her. If you do cut her, there's iodine on the shelf, but take your time, learn what you're doing and you shouldn't need it." Completing the belly, he turned the ewe onto her side and worked methodically along her flank, the fleece coming away from the body as a complete piece.
It looked simple in principle, but then so did soldering circuits. It wasn't so much a matter of knowing what to do as of developing the co-ordination to do it well. He took a set of clippers, plugged them in after checking the flex to make sure it didn't have any bare wires, and strode resolutely towards a large, smelly animal.
Four hours later, he was exhausted. His shoulders ached, his back ached, his clothes stank of sheep and he had bruises where struggling ewes had managed to kick him. He'd never been so glad to finish a day's work in his life. Collapsed in the passenger seat of the Land Rover, he stared blankly at the road ahead as Morgan drove them home.
"You did well, today," Morgan said encouragingly.
That was a matter of opinion. "You did more than any of us. Why didn't you take Graham up on his bet?"
"What for, say?"
"You'd have won some money and rubbed their noses in the dirt."
"No need to cause trouble."
Avon twisted in his seat. "Doesn't revenge mean anything to you?"
"Why should it?" Morgan's voice was slow and reasonable, and that pacifistic attitude irritated Avon immensely.
"Revenge is one of the few things worth living for. That and money. You just let people push you around."
Morgan remained silent, which rather tended to prove Avon's point. He sighed inwardly. How could you have an argument with a man who refused to fight back? What defect in Morgan's character made him weak where Blake had been stubborn?
After a few minutes had passed, Morgan spoke, voice carefully neutral. "Weather should stay fine tomorrow."
"How do you know?" Did they have weather control satellites this far back in time?
"Clear sky, no wind. Settling to stay."
"You're trying to tell me that you can predict tomorrow's weather from what it's like today?"
"Not always, but it'll be dry tomorrow."
Avon could remember vividly his first exposure to weather. No one bothered with weather control on Earth - why bother when all the legal population dwelt inside the domes? The poisoned land wasn't fit to grow crops. What couldn't be produced in the domes was imported.
"The first time I ever went 'outside'," he glanced at Morgan, "I was fourteen. It was raining. I wonder now if that was deliberate. They wanted to weed out the agoraphobics before any of us were sent for training off-world, but I don't think they wanted us to like it too much."
"Why not, say?"
"Too much freedom. Anyone who could live outside the domes was outside their direct control. I suspect now that it wasn't really as uninhabitable out there as they claimed. Blake told me that the resistance had supporters who lived outside the domes, and Vila claims to have hidden out there on occasion."
"Ah. You wouldn't like Vila."
"He's a thief who hates hard work."
"Not like you then." That dry, wry twist to the words, that offered them as humour rather than insult.
Avon grinned broadly. "Of course not."
Skins fell in long curling strands as Morgan peeled the potatoes for tea. They spiralled down into the water and lay coiled in loose, meaningless patterns. When he'd been at school, the girls had claimed that you could read your future in an apple peel flung over your shoulder at Halloween, but none of them had ever read his name in their fortune-telling games. He'd been an outsider even then. There'd been Megan Williams with laughing brown eyes and hair like a princess from a fairy story; she'd never even noticed him. Went out walking with Huw Evans who had a grade one in mathematics and had gone on to become an accountant in Aber. Take Avon now; there was a man with the brains and the looks and any girl would be glad to have him. So what was he doing in a place like this in the middle-of-nowhere standing watching Morgan peel potatoes? Tired, he looked though. Not the bone-deep weariness of the soul that ate away at a man until there was only a shell left, but physical tiredness: the look of a man not long out of his sick-bed and not used to hard labour.
"Have a bath, why not?" he suggested. "It'll ease the stiffness."
Avon straightened up and eased his shoulders back. "Most sensible thing you've said all day. Have you got anything I can read while I'm soaking?"
Morgan put the potato peeler down and dried his hands carefully. "There's some books in the sideboard." At least, he thought that was where Val had put them when she'd helped him unpack everything last week. Nothing was in its accustomed place any more and it just compounded his feeling of alienation from this place. Nothing fitted properly. The rooms were too small to hold all the furniture and there was no fireplace. There was no denying that central heating was warm, but it left the room without a centre point and was far more expensive than an open wood fire. "You won't have to chop wood any more," Val had said encouragingly, but everything came down to money in the end, and she knew that as well as he did.
Near the back of the bottom shelf, he found what he was looking for: a small collection of Classics in faded bindings, the King James Bible, some more recent paperback detective novels and an overdue library book. He'd forgotten about that one. He placed it on top of the sideboard as a reminder to return it as soon as possible.
Avon flicked through the pile, obviously unfamiliar with anything there. Diffidently, Morgan suggested 'A Morbid Taste For Bones'. Avon shrugged. "Why not? I'd rather read Denkovitch, but as I doubt he'll be born for several hundred years..."
Morgan went back and finished the potatoes and put them to boil. From upstairs, he could hear the sound of running water. Hopefully there would be enough hot water left in the tank for him to have a bath too. It had been a tiring day. In the back yard, Cap barked at a passing cat. "Daft dog," Morgan muttered to himself. He should have known Cap would get into a fight this morning; he simply wasn't used to having other dogs around. Loners both, himself and the dog, never easy with strangers.
He finished preparing tea, read a few pages of the paper, and called Avon when everything was ready. Avon appeared a few minutes later, hair damp from being towelled dry, but looking relaxed and refreshed. It was good to have someone around. Even someone who argued all the time was far better company than four empty walls. Over tea, they discussed the newspaper headlines and the current policies of the Conservative party. In spite of Avon's obvious distrust of all politicians, Morgan had the feeling that he'd get on wonderfully with Margaret Thatcher. Something about a powerful, woman Prime Minister seemed to appeal to him.
Tea eaten and dishes washed, Morgan took a bath himself. He started at the top with a generous helping of cheap shampoo, foaming his hair into a white frothy mass, and thought of Val who'd always yearned for the brands she'd seen advertised and had spent her money on perfumes and fashion magazines. She'd lived for the dream they sold of a life beyond Blainau, of a world without farming and drudgery. At seventeen she'd followed that dream and left Blainau for ever to go and work in a factory in Manchester. Had Val been any happier in the city? Morgan didn't really know. Neither of them were great letter writers and they'd drifted further and further out of contact until the Old Lady's death had brought them briefly together.
A white blob of foam fell into the water. A few more years and his hair would probably start looking like that. He was already finding white strands, and his father had been completely grey by the time he was in his early fifties - when Val had escaped. He rinsed his hair, and tried to wash away the memory of his father with the shampoo suds.
There was knock on the door. Morgan sat up and shook droplets of water from his curls.
Avon's voice from outside the door. "Did I leave my book in there?"
It was hard to slip from the past to the present. He glanced over at the windowsill. The book lay there, open, with the pages face down; Avon was obviously several chapters into it. Hair still dripping, he got out of the bath and wrapped a towel around his waist.
"Come on in."
He reached out for the book, intending to pass it over, but froze, a deer caught in a car's headlamps, as Avon exclaimed behind him:
"What the devil happened to you?"
When had Morgan been in prison? And why? It upset all Avon's notions about the man. Blake had had scars on his back, a legacy of beatings in Federation prisons and torture by Vargas and his priests on Cygnus Alpha, but Blake had been a rebel, a resister, had felt no shame with regard to his past. Morgan, though - the look on Morgan's face had been compounded of guilt, shame and fear.
It was unsettling.
He returned again to his novel, determined to resolve at least one of the mysteries that beset him, only to be interrupted by the doorbell. "Just perfect," he muttered under his breath.
It was Pugh, an occurrence that did nothing to improve Avon's mood.
"Morgan about?" Pugh asked.
"He's having a bath." Avon didn't add that in his opinion Morgan would probably delay his reappearance as long as possible.
"My daughter wondered if you could use these." Pugh held out a bag of assorted clothes. "Nothing fancy, but they were left after a jumble sale, see. No sense to go to waste."
Avon accepted the bag with the best grace he was capable of under the circumstances. There was something he wanted from Pugh and keeping him sociable was probably the only way to get it.
"Would you like a cup of tea?"
Pugh beamed, crow's feet creasing in a broad fan from the corner of each eye. "Friendly is it now? I wouldn't say no."
Avon said nothing, but went through the complicated ritual of tea-making and longed for a proper food processor. Tea made, he joined Pugh in the front room where the old man had made himself at home with Morgan's newspaper.
"How you finding it at Fridd Fawr?" Pugh asked, folding the paper out of the way to make room for his mug.
Avon raised an eyebrow.
"My daughter met Mrs Griffiths, said you and Morgan were working."
Was there no privacy in Talgarth? Gossip appeared to be a major local industry.
"I'm surprised you need to ask," Avon said sharply. "Didn't you get all the gory details?"
"No need to be so touchy. Glad to see you settling in. Thought you'd be a burden to Morgan, I did. He's been desperate for company, see, ever since his mam died."
Avon snorted. "If you think this is my idea of a home from home, then think again. I have no intention of staying here for long. I'm not interested in Morgan or his personal problems."
Pugh eyed him sharply. "Too good for the likes of us, are you?"
"Morgan's no saint either. What was he in prison for?"
Pugh looked startled. "Barking up the wrong tree there, boy."
"What's that then?" Morgan's deeper voice from the doorway. Avon hadn't heard him come down.
"Thinks you've spent time behind bars," Pugh said.
Anger blazed in Morgan's eyes. He strode over the room, suddenly showing every inch of his six foot of height. Avon knew instinctively that this was it. He had nanoseconds before he was thrown out on his ear. Questions oozed through his brain with the speed and viscosity of cold treacle, questions that he couldn't answer and decisions that he didn't want to have to make. Where had he gone wrong this time?
"Morgan." Pugh's voice, insistent.
Morgan turned slightly toward the sound, a bull elephant responding to the irritant of a fly.
"Likely he got the wrong end of the stick somehow."
"Likely he's a bloody fool."
"Upstairs," Avon began, "I thought-" and saw the recognition in Morgan's eyes as he put two and two together.
"You thought bloody wrong." Morgan glared at him.
Avon glared back, restraining his temper with difficulty. "Then where did it happen?" he demanded.
Morgan shrank before Avon's eyes, confidence draining away like lifeblood. "Long ago," he said roughly, "and nothing to do with you." He stood stock-still in the centre of the room, a prisoner of his own silence. "Got to walk the dog," he said finally. "Lazy bugger needs the exercise." The silence persisted in his wake.
Avon looked at Pugh. Pugh looked at Avon.
"Best be going," Pugh said finally.
Avon blocked his way to the door. "What was that about?"
Pugh stood solid. "I've known Morgan since he was a boy. Never had a moment's trouble with the law. An honest man is Morgan."
"I'd never have guessed." Avon gave the words his best sarcastic drawl.
"Quick enough to think so five minutes ago."
"We all make mistakes. Mine was obviously in expecting Morgan to act like a rational human being. If he's innocent, what's he scared of?"
Pugh frowned and scratched at an ear. "I only ever known one thing scare Morgan like that."
"Scare or scar?"
"Scars is it? I've seen them."
"And you know what made them."
"Not for me to say." Pugh's eyes flicked around the room, avoiding Avon. "Morgan wouldn't thank me."
Avon fought the urge to pick Pugh up and shake him by his scrawny shoulders. For all the old man's apparent frailty, Avon sensed an underlying toughness to him. This land might age its people, but it also left them stubborn. In Morgan, that toughness was flawed: vulnerability lay raw beneath a cracked façade and a determined probe found the soft spots all too easily. Whatever the cause of those flaws, Avon was convinced that Pugh knew about it.
He relaxed his face into a calculated smile. "I want to help Morgan. I can only do that if I know what's troubling him."
Pugh avoided the bait with the ease of a seasoned Space Commander steering clear of a minefield. "Not interested in Morgan, you said."
Avon damned himself for being careless, then wondered why he was bothered. It wasn't exactly important. He smiled again with self-deprecating humour.
"You're right." With a courtly wave he gestured to the lounge door and escorted Pugh down the white-painted hallway and out of the house.
Pugh hesitated abruptly on the doorstep, looking at him with green eyes that pierced sharp from under shaggy brows.
"Well?" Avon demanded.
"You'll have money from Griffiths by the end of the week. Will you be leaving Morgan?"
"I don't know." He tested the idea in his mind, feeling the experiment, rolling the unexpected taste of it around on his tongue. It was odd, unsettling. Leave Morgan? Live alone?
"Maybe Morgan isn't the only one who needs the company?"
"I don't need anyone." The automatic response didn't even sound convincing to himself. He shook his head, trying to clear the muddle clouding his brain. Yes, he needed Morgan, but not in the sense that Pugh implied. Once he had mastered the complexities of everyday life, then he would be free of Morgan and free of whatever ghosts haunted Morgan's past.
"Suit yourself, boy."
He glared at Pugh, irritated further when Pugh grinned at him. "Wind'll change and leave you stuck like that. I've known far worse than you, boy. Old Mr Thomas, now-"
Avon slammed the door without waiting to hear any more.
It was well after nine when Avon heard the sound of the back door opening and closing. He listened as Morgan went into the hall to hang up his cap, then returned to the kitchen. Avon followed each step of the ensuing ritual in sound. First the sudden swoosh as water rushed into the kettle, followed by the clang of the kettle as it came to rest on the hob. Then the click of the spark lighter and the tap of it being replaced on the worktop. Avon felt in his pocket and lightly touched the metal of his laser probe, needing it as a talisman, a promise of another time and place. Sound of cupboard door opening, two mugs being put down one after the other, the lid being taken off the tea caddy, then a break in the pattern as Morgan rinsed out the pot that Avon had forgotten to empty.
Didn't Morgan ever talk to himself? He could just imagine Vila performing the same task, complaining to an imaginary companion, telling her (Vila's imaginary audiences were always assumed to be female) of Avon's incompetence, checking quickly behind him in case Avon was within earshot, then resuming in full flow. Dayna in the same situation would have told Avon personally exactly what she thought of him, but once that was done, she would have forgotten it entirely. Dayna never bore grudges - except against Servalan. Cally would have washed the pot without complaint, but would have wiped the floor with him the next time they had an unarmed combat session. How about Tarrant? That was an easy one. Tarrant would have done exactly what he'd done - left the pot for the next person to worry about. Blake? What would Blake have done? Left it? Washed it? Complained? He couldn't decide.
Morgan appeared in the doorway, mug in each hand.
Or maybe Blake would simply have made them both a cup of tea and reserved arguments for things that really mattered. After all, they'd had never had a shortage of things to argue over.
Wednesday morning dawned far too early. Avon stretched out a fresh set of aches and roundly cursed every sheep that had ever lived. After breakfast, he washed up while Morgan made the sandwiches. His one attempt at slicing bread had been a total disaster.
"Hasn't it occurred to anyone to slice it before they sell it?"
Morgan grunted in derision. "Tastes like cardboard."
So much for making a fortune out of that idea. He watched as Morgan ladled a generous dose of brown pickle into a cheese sandwich, slapped another slice of bread on top and cut the entire affair in half. Haute cuisine was obviously not the order of the day.
"Corned beef?" Morgan asked.
"Another of your quaint local delicacies?"
Morgan turned the tin over and examined the label. "Come from Brazil."
"Brazil?" And where was that supposed to be? South of Talgarth or on the other side of the globe?
"Somewhere in South America."
Ah. One of those countries. They'd lacked the resources to build city-size force fields and had been wiped out in the Great Burn. "Have you got any recent history books I can read?"
"Need the mobile library. Do come every other Tuesday."
Things moved so slowly round here. In any sensible society, one should be able to request information of that nature from a computer and have an instant response - security clearance permitting, of course. Not that lack of a security clearance had ever stopped him.
There was so much to do. He needed to track down the computers of this era and discover what they were capable of. He had to discover more about this time and its customs before someone other than Morgan caught him out and most important of all, he had to find some way of releasing his blocked memory to discover why he was here and how he could get back home again. How the devil had he got sidetracked into wasting his time with sheep?
The sheep in question were no more co-operative than they had been the day before, but at least the weather stayed fine. The sun shone down warmly and the shadows of the occasional small cloud could be see on the far side of the valley. Avon found a certain fascination in watching the shadows drift across the fields. They seemed to emphasise the open, barren nature of the land. In winter when the land was shrouded in dark, this would be a bitter place indeed. No wonder they called them the Black Mountains.
Morgan, as always, seemed virtually oblivious to the breath-taking view around him. Did familiarity breed contempt? How long was it since he himself had looked at the view in space, not to plot a course or to chart an asteroid field, but simply to admire the beauty of the stars? Yet the stars were as beautiful as a perfectly played symphony and the mathematics of their birth and death had beauty of another kind.
Avon hefted the bag of sandwiches that he carried. There was no actual point in carrying them up here. They could have eaten just as easily sitting in the Land Rover when they'd delivered the previous batch of sheep. They hadn't discussed the matter though, both taking it for granted that they'd eat up in the fields. Maybe Morgan did appreciate the view after all. Or perhaps, he glanced at the shotgun Morgan had collected along with the sandwiches and now carried broken open over his arm, Morgan just wanted to shoot some rabbits.
Avon gestured at the gun. "How does it work?"
Morgan fished two cartridges out of a pocket. "One cartridge in each barrel." He inserted them as he spoke. "Close her up." He snapped the barrels into position. "One trigger for each barrel."
Avon held out his hand for a closer look. Morgan broke the gun open and removed the cartridges before handing it over.
"Don't you trust me?"
"Not a matter of trust. First thing the Old Gentleman ever taught me about guns: no one never had an accident with an unloaded gun."
Avon took the old projectile weapon, felt the smooth wood of the stock, examined the long, steel barrels and investigated the firing mechanism. It wasn't really that different in principle from its modern relatives. Energy weapons were normally the weapon of choice but projectile weapons had their uses, particularly in areas with disruptive electro-magnetic fields.
"The projectile and the combustive material are both in the cartridge?"
"Pellets and powder. Pellets scatter. Better chance of hitting."
Avon snapped the barrel into position and sighted along it. "Not exactly a weapon of finesse."
"Does what it needs to do."
He handed the shotgun back with minimal regret. Far too large to keep in a holster, it required two hands to aim and fire. Not a weapon that could be used quickly in a fight.
Morgan promptly broke the gun open again but didn't load it. As they started up the hill once more, Avon asked:
"Wouldn't it be easier to carry if you kept it assembled?"
Morgan's habit of answering without explaining could be very irritating at times. "So why don't you?"
Avon spoke with exaggerated patience. "It's not loaded."
"Can't tell for certain unless it's open."
They'd had safety straps on the Liberator guns to begin with. Blake had always wondered why Avon was so much faster on the draw, until the day he'd realised that Avon always undid the safety in advance. After a while, they'd all stopped using them. The danger of the gun falling out of its holster was trivial compared to the danger of shooting too late. Morgan's cautious approach to life felt completely alien.
Cap raced ahead, barking loudly at something unseen in the undergrowth at the base of the hedge. Whatever it was obviously escaped him, because he scrabbled a moment in the long grass, then returned to Morgan's side. Moments later, he was off again, seemingly tireless, investigating ditches, racing across fields, once pausing to chase a butterfly that fluttered enticingly just out of his reach. As they approached the field where they'd lunched the day before, Morgan snapped his fingers, summoning Cap to his side. Obedient as always, the dog trotted over.
The rabbits were still there. Avon could see them nibbling at the grass. They were small, brown creatures with long ears and short, front legs. Occasionally one of them would hop forward, propelled by the more powerful hind legs.
The bang of the gun jerked him from his observations.
The rabbits bolted, vanishing down holes in the ground, except for one that twitched and then lay still.
Cap bounded off with enthusiasm and returned with the limp form of the rabbit held between his jaws. Morgan took the rabbit and held it out for Avon to see. Avon took it in his hand, feeling the weight of it. Its ears were long and slender and its fur soft to the touch. The eyes were still open. Death was familiar to Avon. He'd stopped counting how many men he'd killed, but until now, he'd never touched a dead body. Death of something so obviously inoffensive as the rabbit had an odd sense of wrongness to it. His lips curled, and he laughed lightly.
"I caught myself standing on the brink of sentimentality. Fortunately, I recovered."
Morgan grunted, a sound that could have meant almost anything, and took back the rabbit.
By unspoken agreement, they deemed it to be lunchtime. Sitting in the lee of
a sun-warmed stone wall, they started their sandwiches.
Resting here, relaxing in the warm sunshine, Avon felt himself a million miles away from the strain of life on board Liberator. Here, he didn't have to worry about Servalan's plans, didn't have to plan ahead for his next confrontation with Tarrant, didn't have to wonder any more what the purpose of life on Liberator was now that Blake was gone. Insects hovered over the grass and flew in apparently aimless patters and from all around him he could hear a soft buzzing sound.
He looked about, trying to work out where the sound was coming from.
Morgan looked questioningly at him.
"What am I hearing?"
"Crickets." Morgan pointed into the grass. A small, green insect leapt into the air and was gone.
"All strange to you, is it?" Morgan asked.
Avon nodded and picked up a corned beef sandwich. "We went to enough alien worlds, but when people are shooting at you, you never actually have time to stop and look at things."
"Why shooting at you, say?"
"Ah." Avon laughed in gentle amusement. "I wondered when you'd get around to that. People shot at me because I was with Blake, and before you ask, they shot at Blake because he was a revolutionary."
"He kill people?" There was an edge of hurt in Morgan's voice, as though no double of his should be capable of such a thing.
"He didn't really have much choice. You can't bring down a corrupt, totalitarian society by making speeches. Blake tried the non-violent way. All it got him was arrest, memory erasure and his family and friends murdered into the bargain." Avon stopped. He wasn't used to defending Blake It went against the grain.
"They kill his family?" Morgan demanded in outrage. He felt the injustice as though it had happened to him personally. "He have family same as me?"
"A brother and a sister, I think."
A sister? Another woman like Val? "She have children?"
"I don't know." Avon sounded a little apologetic as though he'd only just realised that Blake's family might have meaning to Morgan.
"His mam and dad?"
"Blake never spoke of them. I think they were already dead. Your parents are dead, aren't they?"
An uncomfortable similarity. Had Blake's parents been like his? Was Blake really anything like him? He ate a mouthful of a cheese sandwich, not really noticing the flavour.
"You think I'm like him?"
Avon finished his last bite, pulled a handfull of grass and began shredding the stalks. "To look at, yes. Apart from the fact that you're older, you could be twins. You've his face and his build. That's about it really. You don't sound like him; you don't think like him and you don't have any of his personality or mannerisms." He stopped, took a long stalk and systematically stripped the seeds from it, then continued. "Blake had scars too. He went to try and rescue some of our friends on a planet called Cygnus Alpha. He was captured and tortured. They wanted him to give up our ship."
Morgan made a non-committal sound. He wasn't sure where this was leading, but Avon had the sound of a man who needed to talk. He leaned back against the wall, let his eyes focus on a far-off kestrel hovering in search of prey, and prepared to listen.
"Blake's a stubborn man. He wouldn't co-operate." Morgan sensed rather than saw the wry smile. "He never did have any sense. Jenna and I nearly left him there."
"Jenna?" Morgan queried, because it seemed to be expected of him.
"Our pilot. Strong-willed, beautiful and with no regard for the law. We were far too alike, so naturally we hated one another. She was in love with Blake."
Cap came to lie down beside him and Morgan allowed a stray hand to creep down and scratch him between the ears while he tried to make sense of what Avon was saying. "You said she nearly left him," he protested.
"Well now; love is one thing, but money is another. Liberator was loaded with money and gemstones." Graceful hands gestured in a wide arc.
The kestrel dived into the grass, but came up without having caught anything. Morgan's hand ceased scratching and unconsciously balled into a fist. What kind of a man could talk so causally of abandoning a friend for money?
"Fear not," Avon's voice mocked him. "Virtue triumphed. We rescued him. Unfortunately it became a habit. I spent most of the next two years rescuing him."
Morgan relaxed again, fingers uncurling to lie loose on Cap's head. He was no closer to comprehending Avon, but he recognised intuitively the one thing that he could relate to and turned to look directly at him. "Like family to you. You do worry about him."
Avon's eyelids flickered. "You're entirely mistaken."
"Then why you come here?"
That smile again, eyes crinkling, lips curled. It wasn't what you'd call a friendly smile, more a smile that separated people. Then it faded and was gone and Avon simply looked tired.
"I don't know. Logic suggests that he is imprisoned or dead - why else would I have come so far to try and find him?"
Other people's emotions were not something that Morgan found easy to deal with. He felt for Avon, but lacked the words to express what he wanted to say.
Avon changed tack unexpectedly. "Do you still want me to leave when I have some money?"
"Do you still want me to leave?" Avon repeated in his 'talking to an idiot' tone.
"I expect," Morgan said hesitantly.
"I expect! Don't you ever say 'yes' or 'no'?"
"Now and then."
"You-" Avon pointed a finger at him "-are every bit as exasperating as Blake." He looked hard at Morgan. "I want a straight answer."
That wasn't fair, putting him on the spot like that. How was he to know what he wanted? It had been so much easier when there were other people to make the decisions. Even Lee had started organising him eventually with his list of things to do and his insistence on the paperwork being done. Avon was company, but his talk of killing and stealing was unsettling. Then there was Blake. Morgan felt an ill-defined sense of obligation towards his unknown twin and that was unsettling as well.
"You do put me in a fret," Morgan protested. "You got other places you can go."
"I don't trust anyone else."
"Nothing wrong with other people."
"You don't get on with them."
Morgan shifted awkwardly. "People do pick on you when you're different." He didn't like the direction this conversation was heading in. "Your Blake. He get on with people?"
Avon grimaced. "Blake was a man of the people. Universally loved."
Morgan wanted to ask more, but it seemed rude to pry too deeply. Blake seemed to be everything that he wasn't: Blake knew where he was going; he was popular, confident, even able to get past Avon's cynicism and become his friend. Even that small insight into Avon was comforting. Loneliness was something he understood well.
They sat silent for a while, sharing tea out of the thermos flask, each too involved in his own thoughts to seek further conversation.
The grass was getting itchy and a member of one of the local species of insect was trying to crawl up his leg under the overalls. Avon slapped at it, then pulled up the trouser leg and flicked away the carcass. Beside him, Morgan shifted awkwardly to his feet and snapped his fingers for Cap to join them. Lunch was over. They walked across the field, steering clear of the right-hand side to avoid the worst of the boggy patches that seemed to spring up everywhere. Grass grew in tall, thick tufts in the wettest parts. Avon was beginning to recognise some of the different varieties of grass now. He lacked names for them, but was labelling them in his own mind. There were some that grew with delicate grace, dancing in even the lightest of breezes. There was another that grew tall and straight, the seeds zigzagging down the stem. In places where the sheep cropped close it was hard to tell the difference but in fields not currently used for grazing, the wild grasses grew in profusion. The gate at the top was wooden and looked as though it had seen better days. Avon leant on it and looked ruefully over it at the inevitable sheep. They could have been the same sheep as yesterday as far as he could tell. They all looked exactly the same. No, that wasn't quite true - one of them was limping. He pointed it out to Morgan, who nodded.
"Foot rot. You get it on these boggy fields. Nothing to wear the hoof down."
"It do grow too long and curl over. Traps the mud under it and gets infected."
Morgan unfastened the wire that held the gate closed and pushed it open with a practised shove. He let Avon through, then followed with Cap close on his heels.
"How do you know it isn't a broken leg?" Avon asked out of curiosity.
Morgan called to Cap with a string of commands. Some of them were beginning to make a rough kind of sense to Avon now, but others seemed to serve no purpose other than to maintain contact between Morgan and the dog. This time, instead of circling the herd as he usually did, Cap headed for the limping sheep and caught it by the wool on its neck. After an initial attempt at flight, the animal seemed to accept the inevitable and allowed Cap to hold it firmly while Morgan walked over. Morgan turned the sheep on its back and inspected the foot.
Avon had thought he'd met the limit in smells while he'd been here, but the stink from the sheep's foot was indescribable. Point to Morgan. Whatever it was, it certainly wasn't a broken leg. Not unless gangrene had set in.
Morgan took an antiquated-looking knife out of his pocket and started cutting away at the hoof. It came away in slivers as Morgan worked, pus and other material appearing as he got deeper down. Avon took a step back to get away from the smell.
"Will that cure it?"
"No. Need to spray it with Terramycin back down the farm."
Ill-educated Morgan might be, but he had his own knowledge and skills. They were both specialists in their way and both caught in the trap of having skills that were of little use outside that area. There the similarity ended; Avon reckoned himself as being far more adaptable. Wherever you went, you had to keep learning.
"How did Cap know which sheep you wanted?" he asked.
"I trained him."
"Could anyone else do that with him?"
"Probably not. Cap's a one-man dog. Lot of working dogs like that. If the owner dies, kindest to kill the dog."
That was the kind of intense relationship that was born of working together all day long when there were few other people around. And wouldn't Blake have just loved that bit of amateur psychology. But you couldn't shoot human beings. They were left to carry on when their friends abandoned them. So they carried on, and they learnt new tricks, found new people to work with, and if you sometimes missed an old friend, well that was life. In that kind of intensity, you clung together because you were all that each other had.
At least he'd only had to live a few years like that. He tried to imagine Morgan and his parents living alone, up in the hills, in the old, stone farmhouse at Blainau. What did a whole lifetime of living in each other's pockets do to you? Had they loved one another or had it curdled to hate? Perhaps it all come down to the same thing in the end? What kind of people had they been to have shaped a man like Morgan?
What was it Pugh had said as he left - something about old Mr Thomas?
The pieces clicked into place.
"It was your father."
"The man who beat you until he left scars."
Morgan stiffened in indignation. "The Old Gentleman was a hard-working man."
Avon said nothing. He knew the type: hard-working, narrow-minded and inflexible. His supervisor at university had been one of those. You either conformed to his expectations and turned in every piece of coursework exactly the way he wanted it or you got downgraded. Avon had conformed by day and hacked into the computers by night. When he had discovered how to alter his course marks, he'd stopped attending lectures. Other students had reacted differently. Two transferred to another course. Many simply conformed, even when it was evident that new research was liable to render obsolete much of what they were learning. Fools, all of them, incapable of defying authority.
What if that authority were bigger than you, stronger than you, and capable of applying worse sanctions than simply a bad grade? Did the fear ever really go away?
Blake had been accused of child abuse.
Morgan was a victim.
Avon contemplated his next move while Morgan reached out to switch off the wireless. This was their third draughts game of the evening and the honours were even so far. Reaching a decision, he made a defensive move and waited to see what Morgan's response would be.
Morgan took a long pull from his glass of beer and moved a black piece to a position where Avon had to capture it.
Avon frowned; he'd already learned to be wary of Morgan's sacrifices. The compulsory capture rule had thrown him at first. Draughts wasn't unlike pyramids, but in pyramids you had the choice whether to take an offered piece. This time though, it seemed to be a forced move on Morgan's part rather than a deliberate set-up. He hopped over the two black pieces and stacked them up beside the board.
Morgan slid a piece diagonally and, too late, Avon saw the trap. He gave a millimetric nod in recognition of the ploy. The skin around Morgan's eyes creased in good-humoured response. It rather looked as though the evening was going to end two : one in Morgan's favour. Morgan had come out ahead the previous two evenings as well, but then he'd been playing the game most of his life. His mother had apparently enjoyed a regular game of draughts.
Avon sipped his own beer and considered the board carefully. Just because the situation looked bad didn't mean that there wasn't a way out of it. He'd almost decided on a move when the doorbell rang.
"I'll get it." Morgan shifted heavily to his feet.
Avon was checking out the ramifications of his intended move when raised voices distracted him.
"What do you want here? Haven't you done enough already?"
"Morgan, be reasonable. We made you a good offer and you accepted it."
Avon slipped into the hall for a better view. The man Morgan was arguing with looked to be in his late thirties. He was clean-shaven and dressed in a suit. Avon hadn't yet worked out the codes that this century used to indicate social status by way of clothing, but the suit was clean and fitted well and the fabric showed no signs of wear.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend, Morgan?" the stranger asked.
Morgan turned round, slightly taken aback to discover Avon behind him. "Avon, this is Mr Duncan. He do manage the Cai-Nest estate."
Duncan smiled. The polite, slightly formal, smile of the middle manager. "Good evening. I've heard a lot about you. I gather Morgan rescued you after an accident up in the hills last weekend?"
Avon smiled in return, allowing the predator to show through a little. "Morgan's been an immeasurable help to me."
Duncan's eyes flicked over him briefly, measuring him up, then returned to Morgan. "Morgan, I need to talk to you."
Morgan's voice was slow and solid. "There's nothing Avon can't hear."
He'd have taken that as a vote of confidence if he hadn't suspected that Morgan simply wanted moral support.
"Very well. Your mother's room still hasn't been cleared and the builders have to start work on Monday."
Morgan stiffened, spine rigid.
"I know she meant a lot to you, Morgan, but the job has to be done."
"It will be done, sir." He sounded as though he were a judge passing sentence.
Duncan hesitated as though he wanted to say more on the subject, then shook his head ever so slightly. "I've always tried to help you, Morgan." He walked briskly down the short, front-garden path to where his car was parked.
Morgan stood, rooted to the spot, watching him leave. Avon could see the tension in his stance, the barely repressed anger.
"Damn him. Damn him and his builders and his deadlines."
"When will you do it?"
"I can't get the furniture out on my own. Too heavy."
"I don't want no help."
Morgan's illogic was impressive, exceeding even its normal high standard, allowing Avon to easily divine his level of distress. However, he had other concerns of his own.
"I'm coming with you."
Morgan rounded on him in fury. "I don't want your damn help."
Avon reined in his temper and spoke each word clearly and sharply. "My memory begins in the Old Lady's room. I have to go back there. I have to back and see if I can remember.
Morgan sighed, breath fleeing as a departing spirit. "We'll go tomorrow."
Saturday was just as the forecast had claimed. It rained as little as they left Talgarth, but it had already stopped by the time the Land Rover pulled up outside the yard gate at Blainau. The yard wall was of concrete blocks, turned a dull, dark grey by the rain. A brightly-coloured, metal contraption rested on the grass verge beside the wall, the name 'Blainau' hand-painted across a smoothly curved blade. Avon looked at it, trying to determine what it was.
"Young lad, Lee's friend - he painted it," Morgan said, as though that were something he should apologise for.
Morgan's gift for misunderstanding him bordered on the unique, but then he doubted that Morgan could really conceive of a world other than his own. A world where machines made of bent metal were replaced by hyperdrives and gleaming alien technology would be as alien to Morgan as this world was to himself. Perhaps more so.
Avon got out and opened the gate. He was a dab hand at farm gates now. This one wasn't too bad as they went, metal and heavy, but with reasonably smooth hinges. As he opened the gate, Cap raced past him, barking loudly. The dog ran excitedly around the yard, sniffing in every corner and pawing at doors before finally stopping to urinate at the base of a low wall. Morgan drove in and parked the Land Rover against the wall of the house while Avon closed the gate again.
Morgan got out of the driver's seat and watched Cap, as he waited for Avon to join him.
"Daft dog," he said quietly.
The porch leaned against the side of the house, built of the same rough stone and tiled with identical slates. Morgan slipped the key in the lock and opened the door. A second door led into the house proper. Avon looked around in curiosity as he entered. There seemed to be two rooms on the ground floor with the staircase set between them. To his right was a kitchen with a low pottery sink set beside a wooden draining board. Bare cupboards and shelves filled most of the wall that he could see. The room to his left was empty, only the faded wallpaper decorating the walls remained to say that anyone had ever lived here.
Morgan walked up the stairs, without waiting to see if Avon was following him. Avon paused, trying to shake off a vague feeling of unease, then followed him. The landing was narrow, with a small window throwing some essential light onto the dark stairs. Morgan silently unlocked another door and entered. He stood to one side as Avon went down the single step and walked past him.
Sunlight turned scattered dust motes to gold as they danced in the air, whirled into sudden activity by the entry of people into this room where only the dead should have had admittance. Avon walked slowly round the room, tracing a hand over the brass bed-frame, touching the chest of drawers and the wardrobe. He needed the memories, but they wouldn't come. All he could recall was Morgan bending over him, hands tending him, and that gentle Welsh voice asking him if he was all right. Odd how quickly one could get used to a voice. He glanced over at Morgan, caught the sadness in his eyes.
"She was the gentle one," Morgan said. "She had the softness."
"I'm sorry," Avon said. For once in his life, he meant it.
"Do you remember?" Morgan asked.
Avon shook his head. "Can you take me outside, to where you found me?"
"It's not far." Morgan led the way back down again, boots loud on the wooden stairs.
Behind Blainau, the fields sloped upwards, away to the high ridge of the mountains. Avon stared upwards, as if the size and age of the mountains gave them the power to answer his questions. If he didn't find his answers here, he would find them nowhere.
Morgan's steady stride led across the field, towards a stunted tree that struggled to maintain a hold in the thin soil next to a barbed wire fence.
Avon looked round, eyes seeking anything that might give him some kind of a clue. Then he saw it, between two rocks whose weathered, lichen-covered surfaces stood proud of the turf - a small metal box, no more than ten centimetres in length. He picked it up, turned it over and examined it carefully. Some of its functions seemed obvious enough.
He pressed the transmit button. "Avon."
"At last. Might I point out that I have had to utilise three separate dimensions in order to deal with the complexities of storing data relating to the historical situation both before and after the time shift."
Avon inclined his head with a smile. "Orac. Always a pleasure to hear from you too."
Morgan looked suspiciously at the box. "What's that then?"
"Logic suggests that you must be Morgan Thomas."
Morgan took a hasty step backwards.
From which I may conclude," Orac continued, "Avon has successfully achieved what he set out to do."
"Which was?" Avon demanded.
"To save Morgan's life. You are now temporally positioned a week after the date when Morgan's death was recorded. Thus you have self-evidently succeeded."
Avon looked at Morgan, trying to take in the implications. Morgan stared back, anger and suspicion vying for control of his face.
It didn't make sense. Avon tried to work out what he was supposed to have done. He'd hadn't saved Morgan from being murdered or from being attacked by a mad sheep or from being hit by an automobile. In fact he hadn't done anything, unless his mere presence had changed events so that Morgan had been in one place instead of another. How was Morgan supposed to have died? He wanted to ask, but that seemed unnecessarily tactless with Morgan standing there beside him.
"Do you now wish to return?" Orac inquired.
He caught the slow blink of Morgan's eye and read in that that he would be missed. Affection for the older man surged suddenly and unexpectedly in him. "I can wait an hour or two, help you clear the Old Lady's room first." His answers could wait until he got back to Liberator. At least he knew now that there were answers, that he had a way back. That alone was enough to reduce the pressure that had been building up within him.
"I can manage on my own."
He rested a hand gently on Morgan's shoulder. "Let me help."
Morgan stared past him, down at the old stone farmhouse with the trees growing up tall behind it. It was as though Avon wasn't really there, had perhaps never really been there. All that was real was Blainau and its past.
Avon made to follow as Morgan started down the hillside, then stopped abruptly. The past was the key to everything. Surely all he had to do was to return to the future, come back with sufficient valuables from Liberator's strong room and he could buy Blainau if he so desired? Kairopan and Federation credits might have no value here, but gold and gems were valuable at any point in history. He had the wealth; the gesture wouldn't even dent Liberator's reserves.
"Orac, can you take me back and return me to this spot again?"
"Impossible. The temporal interference makes it inadvisable to travel closer than eighty years to any period in which you have already had a physical existence. Revisiting this period would be as dangerous as attempting to travel within your own lifetime. Indeed, it is only the rebound of the temporal potential energy that makes it possible to return to your own time at all, and that must be done with minimum physical displacement to avoid cumulative errors."
"You're saying I can't ever come back here again?"
"That is correct. There is a 97.3% probability that you would die instantly and a 4.3-"
"That's enough, Orac."
In other words, he would never see Morgan again. His temporary conceit of buying Blainau was just that - conceit. Morgan was already a hundred metres down the slope ahead of him. Avon ran after him, arms waving to keep his balance. He couldn't go without a farewell, nor without at least trying to help Morgan with his mother's furniture. There was no way Morgan could move the bed or the wardrobe on his own.
Avon struggled with the nut, levering as hard as he could with the spanner. A generation's worth of corrosion had fastened the bolts to the bed-frame with all the tenacity of limpet mines. He picked up a second, larger, spanner and used it to hit the first one. The nut obliged by rotating through a few degrees. Avon smiled and walloped again. Some things never changed. The future might hold wonders galore, but it also held reluctant hardware. Morgan came back from carrying out a chair and picked up another one. The seat of the chair was made from thin strips of cane, painstakingly woven into a pattern of small hexagons. One of the strips had broken at some time, leaving an irregularity that ran across the design, disturbing the geometry. Morgan rubbed a thumb across the cane-work.
"Always meant to get that fixed."
It was the first thing he'd said in nearly five minutes.
Avon wrenched at the nut again and it finally came free. He slipped the bolt free of the bed-frame with the satisfaction of a job well done. One brief tug separated the frame from the brass bed-end, and the frame clattered heavily to the floor. He picked up the bed end and hefted its weight experimentally. Not too heavy. Morgan led the way with the chair and Avon followed, placing his feet carefully on the narrow stairs. The sun had made a brief appearance in the yard, struggling its way between the cloud banks as if to leave Avon with a final memory of the beauties of this place as well as its drudgeries. Bright golden buttercups caught individual droplets of sunlight, reflecting them in a shower that rippled away as the wind tossed their heads around. Cap came forth from the field to sniff around Morgan's ankles as Morgan placed the chair beside its partner and a pile of drawers. The contents of the drawers had long since gone, to whatever self-same place the bedding and the contents of the wardrobe had gone. The Old Lady's room was an empty shell and getting emptier by the minute.
Avon went back upstairs, struggling against the impression of age that surrounded him. The dome he had been brought up in was over two hundred years old, but it didn't feel old. Nothing was permanent within the dome apart from the superstructure. Rooms, partitions, corridors - all were infinitely flexible responding to the changing needs of the inhabitants. Old panels were recycled and remoulded to whatever the latest dictates of fashion decreed should be done. Older designs lingered longer in the poorer areas, but the impression created was that of poverty rather than age. Blainau might have been here any length of time from fifty to a couple of hundred years; the thing that made it seem so ancient was the creeping sensation that nothing had ever changed here.
Next they carried the frame of the bed downstairs, struggling to manoeuvre it between them on the tight corner of the landing. There was a moment when Avon was convinced that they were never going to get it round the bend, but then it came with no more damage than a slight scratch to the plaster on the wall. Neither of them commented on the damage. There didn't seem to be any reason to.
The pile in the yard grew larger.
The wardrobe was largest and last. A fine-grained, red-dark wood that Avon had no hope of identifying, with fine detail inset in a lighter contrasting colour. He'd no idea what it was worth in this time, but in his own it would have cost a small fortune. Wood meant wealth. The legacy of radiation on Earth was trees that rarely grew straight or strong. Only coarse, fast-growing timbers were planted on the colony worlds, where they struggled along with other Earth-native flora and fauna that had either hitched a lift or had been deliberately introduced in an effort to terraform recalcitrant native soils. Good quality hardwood took centuries to grow and cost a small fortune to transport. He let Morgan take the lead in carrying the wardrobe out the bedroom door. Taking this downstairs was going to be no joke, and though he'd never considered himself a weakling, Morgan was undeniably stronger than he was. They manoeuvred it round the landing by shuffling and sliding it along the floor. Morgan moved onto the stairs, took up the weight with a grunt and started down backwards. Avon took as much of the weight as he could, but the very steepness of the stairs ensured that Morgan had to take the brunt.
Half-way down, Morgan missed his footing. Avon slammed the wardrobe against the wall with all his strength, praying for friction to slow its descent. It lurched violently, then steadied as Morgan regained his balance on the step below. They paused for a moment, both regaining their breath, then continued unevenly to the bottom and out the porch into the yard.
This lot was never going to fit into the Land Rover.
Avon rubbed his hands, fingers stiff from clenching onto the wardrobe. "What are you going to do with it all?"
It struck him then that Morgan was quite possibly insane. "Why? I thought you needed money."
"It was hers. Not for anyone else to have."
Emotion rather than logic. Morgan was more like Blake than he knew. Avon was profoundly grateful that he wasn't prone to such acts of illogic. He fished in his pocket, feeling the notes that Griffiths had paid him on Friday.
"Here, take this."
Morgan looked affronted. "I don't need charity."
"It'll be no use where I come from. We use different money entirely."
"You're going then?"
Avon nodded, words abruptly choking in his throat. He had an absurd impulse to hug Morgan, but reined it back to a grip on the shoulder while his other hand thrust the money into Morgan's palm. Morgan took the notes reluctantly and pressed them into his pocket without looking at them.
They stood silent, staring at one another.
Avon spoke first. "I've got to go back up the hill. Orac insists on minimal physical displacement." He paused. Translation was becoming almost automatic now. "I've got to leave from where I arrived."
"Where you found that box. That's where I first saw you."
There was really nothing else for Avon to say, so he said it. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye," Morgan said. "I hope you find your friend." He turned away and walked into one of the farm buildings.
Avon didn't believe in drawn-out farewells either. He gripped the transmitter firmly and headed up the hill. The slope stretched away before him up to the horizon, broken only by the familiar, dry stone walls and woolly blobs of sheep.
Part-way up, he looked back. Fire roared fiercely, far too vigorous to be the wood alone. Morgan must have used something else to set it going. At the edge of the yard, Morgan stood stiffly, Cap by his side, staring into the flames. Smoke plumed high into the sky, a beacon that must have been visible from miles around. It nagged at Avon. It was as though he'd seen it before somewhere. He walked on, leaden feet carrying him each reluctant step uphill. There was something, something that he'd forgotten, something important.
"Orac," he demanded of the metal box, "how did Morgan die?"
"The available archaeological data showed evidence of a shotgun injury to the skull. The impact was at short range, thus suggesting an accidental injury while cleaning the weapon."
A shotgun accident? Not Morgan. But if it wasn't an accident... He'd been blind, totally blind, wrapped up in his own desires and frustrations and he'd never seen the obvious.
He knew now where he'd seen that smoke before. Memory piled urgently out of the void of the past. More memory than he wanted. More memory than he could face. There'd been a fire the day he arrived, the day he'd come here fleeing Servalan and her imprisonment, the day he'd come here fleeing his own memories of killing Blake.
He threw his head back and laughed aloud to the uncaring mountains. They were all dead: Cally, Dayna, Tarrant, Vila and Soolin. They were all dead and he cared little if he joined them. Morgan must have thought Avon quite mad, appearing in the middle of nowhere, demanding to speak to him, intruding on his quiet farewells.
Avon started to run down the hillside, the smoke beacon beckoning to him, spelling out its messages in a form that any fool could understand. He leapt over rocks and tussocks, feet flying in a dance that threatened to break his ankles at the slightest mis-step. Where was Morgan? He couldn't see him any more. He ran, each breath a fight for air as his lungs protested the demands he made of them.
There, behind the Land Rover, taking something out of the back. Something long and straight.
He tried to shout, but there was no breath in him for anything but running. One foot, then the other. Mind the dips and hollows, beware the boggy patches, but keep running.
Morgan, snapping his fingers. Cap trotting to his side.
Pain in his side, a pain that stabbed with every breath every stride.
Morgan, walking into the workshed beside the house, closing the door.
Everything seemed sharp and vivid, the moment etching itself forever on Avon's mind. The trees silhouetted against the dark sky, the old stone of the farmhouse, the rooks resting on the tiled roof, even the battered form of the Land Rover standing in the yard, were part of a picture frozen in time. There was silence, the whole world hanging on a thread waiting for a sound.
The shot scared the rooks, startling them into a whirling cloud over Blainau, black bearers of evil tidings.
And Avon couldn't stop. His feet were beyond his control, running towards the nightmare, running towards another death because there was nowhere left for them to flee. No hiding places remaining. No friends left for him to kill. Over the yard, skating on the thin mud, throwing himself against the workshop door, breaking the latch.
Morgan. Morgan standing beside the dead body of his dog. Morgan, with the gun barrel pointing at his head, hand pressing a stick down on the trigger.
Morgan stared at him, caught in a paralysis half-way between life and death.
"Don't do it."
Morgan said nothing, didn't move. His face asked no questions of Avon's sudden return. He was in a world beyond Avon, a world where death had been faced and already accepted. He simply had to take a final step and close the door behind him.
"Blake's dead. They're all dead. You're the only friend I have left."
Blake's name twisted through the barrier between worlds. The door creaked on its hinges, but stayed open. Now, Morgan saw him, saw what Avon knew had to be written in his face: loss, guilt and despair. What did it matter if Morgan saw? Maybe Morgan was the only one who could fully understand. How could anyone know such a road until they had walked it themselves? Only now, here at the end, did he finally understand Morgan.
They were no words he could offer, no promises he could make that would mean anything. All Avon could do was to trap Morgan with snares of guilt. If you kill yourself, I'll take the gun and use it on myself. That would make you a murderer. Do you want to be a murderer?
He'd gone too far along that path already. Maybe the only genuine gift he could give Morgan was the one that nobody had ever given him. A choice.
Slowly, Avon turned and walked out of the workshed.
He remembered now, remembered the lab, cold and clinical, where he'd been building Servalan's teleport for her. Remembered, too, the day he'd squeezed the possibility of time travel out Orac, whose insatiable appetite for knowledge had led it to details of an abandoned Federation research project. He'd wanted to go back, prevent himself from carrying out his appointed role in that day of death and madness, but life was never that simple. The Federation had abandoned the project for the same reason that it was useless to Avon - temporal interference. He hadn't been able to save Blake, hadn't been able to save any of them. It was Orac's love of trivia that had finally given him another option. Archaeologists working in Wales had excavated a cemetery. DNA profiling had shown one of the graves to be that of a man genetically identical to Roj Blake. It was impossible and yet there it was. Bodies of relatives in the same grave left no doubt that this man had been born nearly eight hundred years ago. Expiation became a possibility. Blake couldn't be saved, but Morgan could.
It was silent outside apart from the crackling of the bonfire. Dreams and memories burned in twisting flames that sketched fragments of imagined faces against the sky. A young boy playing tag, chasing his sister in and out of workshed and stable, chickens scattering before them as they sprinted across the yard. A man watching them, his back turned to Avon, the expression on his face unguessable. A woman, work-roughened hands twisted in her apron, looking as though she wished to say something and dared not.
He rubbed at the back of his palm, trying to remove a itch that only existed in his mind. Morgan was not Blake, never would be Blake. The circle was turned. He wasn't seeking another Blake any more. If Morgan died...
Wind gusted, skittering the flames sideways, blowing smoke into Avon's face. He coughed, rubbed at his eyes. When he opened them again, Morgan was there.
"Dog's to be buried," he said roughly.
Avon nodded, not trusting to words that might shatter this fragile truce with life. For now, he'd won. No. For now, they'd won. Because the only way they were going to survive was together.
Back to B7 Top